A Romaine Brooks Biographer's Writing Life
Now that Romaine Brooks: A Life is in production (coming from University of Wisconsin Press in Fall 2015), I’ve begun work on the book trailer.
2D Animated Book Trailer to Launch Brooks Bio
This is a really exciting experience: an animated story of Romaine’s life narrated partly by herself and partly by me. I am learning so much from executive producer Suzanne Stroh and her team at Fixed Gaze Films about how these projects get made.
We seem to be starting with last things first. While the soundtrack is usually the last thing that gets laid down, it also sets the tone and pace of the piece. Music is crucial for understanding the biographer (me), the subject (Romaine) and the book itself (a biography and critical appraisal of the artist).
Jared Balogh Soundtrack
I’m delighted that we’ve chosen a cool, elegant and very Modern piece by jazz composer Jared C. Balogh, “Pulling Myself Up Through.” It’s a beautiful composition and a perfect fit for both Romaine and me. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet Mr. Balogh, but if I do, I’m going to buy him a drink and toast his creative genius.
You can hear an excerpt in this sneak preview of Fixed Gaze’s logo animation, a work still in progress.
Romaine Brooks Attracts Young Audience at Age 141
We are still only in the storyboard stage of preproduction on Romaine Brooks: A Life. I don’t want to give away the story line; suffice it to say that even at age 141, Romaine is not alone! I have not yet seen the character sketches, but I couldn’t contain my excitement and wanted to share it with all you Romaine fans.
People keep asking me about my forthcoming Romaine Brooks book. I am doing some tweaks in light of startling new information about her personal relationships that came to light while I was working to determine the proper copyrights issues.
My book contrasts Brooks’ work with the political, social, and interpersonal environment within which Brooks painted, whether during war, while living separately, in communal houses with her partners (who included Natalie Barney and Lily de Gramont), or during her prime years as a socialite in Paris. Romaine Brooks: A Life proceeds chronologically through Brooks’ works and the documented interactions with both her subjects and her peers to persuasively emphasize her struggles and change the current perception of Romaine Brooks. Here is the key to finally restoring Brooks to the history of American and International art that is her rightful place in the development of art. Although a conservative modernist in her chosen artistic style, content, and approach, she was decidedly modernist in that she documented a lesbian and bi-sexual subculture. She also applied a new musicality to her work, developing a unique approach to both monochromatic harmonies and tonal scale in her use of paint and its application to the canvas.
Recognition of Brooks for the originality and quality of her work, as well as for her courage in demanding to be seen, is long overdue. My book establishes once and for all how important and innovative her contributions to art were. I firmly believe that, had she not been a conservative modernist, expatriate, and sapphist-lesbian, she would not have been neglected as she has been. Much work remains to be done clarifying the details of Romaine’s life and art. It is my hope that a new and younger generation of scholars will take up the mantle where I have left off.
You will have to be the judge, given the recent issue of GLReview that discusses the concept of camp and gives various definitions:
“The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.” Wilde
“Camp is [understood] not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.” Sontag
Sontag goes on to say that, “Camp sees everything in quotation marks.” She associates camp with performance, “being-as-playing-a-role,” and with the artificial: “It is the difference…between the thing as meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice.”
Certainly Brooks qualifies as one of the first female dandies, and her creation of an artist-self falls into the category of the performative identity. Her paintings and interpretations of various new women, bisexuals, and internatonal metro-sexuals positions her as a radical modernist — albeit, as outlined in Romaine Brooks: A Life from the right rather than center or left. What could be more camp than her dramatic 1912 self-portrait or her stylized self-portrayal of 1923? This perhaps explains her enduring appeal across generations and various cultures.
Surfing the net is something I do randomly. It’s like a treasure hunt for me. You never know what people will post. One of my favorite sites is Strange Flowers, and it was there that I recently came across some images of Romaine Brooks from 1925 that I have never seen before so.
I am thinking of using one of them in my forthcoming biography of Brooks.
What do you think?
This page is dedicated to the lesbian expatriate artist Romaine Goddard Brooks (1874-1970). Brooks was the epitome of style and could give most fashion designers today cards and spades when it comes to understated elegance. She designed her own man-tailored clothinge and made everything in her life according to her singular tastes.
I am going to be presenting a talk on Romaine’s relationship with adventurer, man of letters and womanizer, Gabriele d’Annunzio, on Saturday. This takes place in Las Vegas at the Women and Fascism panel of the Modern Studies Association. I was invited by author Barbara Wills whose recent book Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fay, and the Vichy Dilemma has created a great stir among those devoted to feminist and queer studies, as well as among admirers of Stein’s modernism.
My own presentation deals with Romaine Brooks’ queer heroic portraits of women. I have written a couple of articles on these but this will be my first dedicated presentation detailing, however briefly, the connection between Romaine Brooks and Gabriele d’Annunzio and the impact that relationship had on her signature style.