I have had the terrific luck to collaborate with the amazing writer Rebecca Brown. Charles Mudede called Brown “an underappreciated writer of masterpieces.” See links to read about her work.

Our first collaboration was the book Woman in Ill-Fitting Wig.  Brown wanted to write about some of the paintings she saw at an exhibit I had at my gallery.  The book contains fifteen images and fifteen pieces of text by Brown.  Interviews regarding this collaborative process: http://www.tarpaulinsky.com/Mar-Apr-05/Brown-Kiefer/Interviews.html

Nate Lippens wrote in The Stranger, “The book is suffused with the spirited challenge that Twombly and Myles proposed for art and writing.  And the play of darkness and light are evident in Kiefer’s paintings and Brown’s tough yet elusive narratives.”

If you wanna buy this book, go to Pistil Books (“pistil” as in flower): www.pistilbooks.net/si/102263.html

We then moved on to collaborate with the online literary journal Tarpaulin Sky. Brown was the guest editor of the spring/summer 2007 issue. She sent my images to thirteen writers and asked them to respond to them. Most of the writers had never seen my work before and we did not send titles or dimensions to them. The response was primarily images for them to create using their own poetry or fiction. The fancy word for this is exphrastic.

If you want to read and see the 2007 Tarpaulin Sky issue with the likes of Rebecca Brown, Chris Abani, John Yau, Douglas A. Martin, Brian Evenson, Joanna Howard, Amy Halloran, Laird Hunt, Frances McCue, Camille Dungy, Selah Saterstrom, Suzanne Oliver, and Lucy Corrin, go to www.tarpaulinsky.com/Spring07/index.html

It is an interactive site, so just click on each image or name, editor notes by Julianna Spallholz and Rebecca included: www.tarpaulinsky.com/Spring07/Editors_Notes.html

Nancy Kiefer

Brush and Pen:

Area author's new work offers lyrical replies to airy imagery

Lynn Crawford for The Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

Seattle-based writer Rebecca Brown casts a sensitively tuned eye toward the human condition. Her books combine ferocity (of attachments, longing) with the gracefully humane. They often verge on the violently comic. The interrelated stories that comprise 1992’s The Terrible Girls include the piece, “Forgiveness,” which opens with the line: “When I said I’d give my right arm for you, I didn’t think you’d ask me for it, but you did.” The story goes on, detailing life after the amputation: “We kept my arm in the bathtub, bleeding like a fish.”

2003’s Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary, a searingly tender autobiographical account of caring for her dying mother, strikes a much different tone. Its chapter titles organize the course of her mother’s illness: “Anemia,” “Tremor,” “Chemotherapy,” “Baldness,” “Vomit” and “Cremation.”

Brown, who for the past couple of years has taught student writing workshops at Cranbrook Academy, has wide-ranging projects, but each has this focus: A voice intent on and successful at crafting a sensibility solidly outside the register of familiar.

Her newest work, Woman in Ill-Fitting Wig, continues this undertaking, but again in a different manner. The collection consists of 15 postcard-size, expressionist portraits (most oil on canvas, none bigger than 4 inches square) by the artist Nancy Kiefer, and 15 of Brown’s narratives responding to them. Kiefer’s powerful paintings are of smudge delicacy: Swaths of black and midnight blue are startlingly offset by sections of color: red, pink, green, yellow. The portraits hint at rather than depict beings — a baby, skull, mask, pumpkin, youth, man, woman and rabbit — some with hair, some without.

Moving through this book, looking at the images and reading the texts, it becomes apparent that Brown and Kiefer delve into violations, shock and loss, as well as the reconstructive processes that follow.

Each of Brown’s luminous texts imagines and inhabits a character the way an actor might. Any detective will tell you that getting to the bottom of a crime scene requires exacting task work. Brown’s text “Work” for the painting “Blue jar,” starts off as a detective novel: “I found the bread crumbs in the woods and followed them. I shouldn’t have.”

Then, further on, “The bodies are stacked like cords of wood but not as neat … I pull them out and straighten them as much as they can be what with their, some of their, broken arms and legs and backs, femurs tibias spines.”

The piece “Pilgrim,” after the painting “Violet,” presents a different character, one who’s displaced: “I walked until my shoes had holes were tatters were nothing my feet were bare. Until my feet were blistered calloused cut until my clothes got holes then turned into rags then nothing and I was covered with nothing with only skin but something enough, yes, something hard and thick enough to keep me from getting to where I wanted to get wherever that was away from me therefore I went.”

At the book’s end, the author and artist acknowledge: “Many of these images were painted after 9/11. Many of these texts were written during Abu Ghraib.” Through word and picture, the information recalls people affected by those acts of violence. To process either or both is overwhelming, but Woman in Ill-Fitting Wig’s exploration offers a start. For Brown and Kiefer, the weapon to wield against horror is distinct expression. Their book shows determination to keep feeling and wanting alive, no matter how damaged, battered, blunted, even in the most brutal arena. It is the purest form of hope.

Note: Brown, Kiefer and designer Ado Chan produced this book themselves. The project was funded by the Brenman Jaech Foundation and exhibited at Hugo House gallery in Seattle. It is only available through Pistil Books Online: www.pistilbooks.net.


Rebecca Brown & Nancy Kiefer

“Seattle's Rebecca Brown is a prolific and award-winning author with 11 books to her credit, but she also is well known for her teaching, activism and outreach efforts in the Puget Sound literary community. Brown was the first writer in residence at Richard Hugo House and has taught there frequently ever since. She is the co-founder of the Jack Straw Writers Program and now serves as the creative director of literature at Centrum in Port Townsend, heading the popular summer writers conference there. Brown's best-known work is "The Gifts of the Body," a haunting novel about an AIDS caregiver published in 1994 and a winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Her 1986 debut novel, "The Haunted House," recently has been reissued in a new paperback edition. Brown often stretches literary boundaries, having collaborated with painter Nancy Kiefer on a book ("Woman in Ill Fitting Wig"), as well as writing the libretto for a dance opera ("The Onion Twins"). Her work often appears in anthologies and has been translated into Japanese, German, Danish, Italian and Norwegian.” Seattle PI

Read two original pieces 
by Rebecca Brown
Video: Brown talks 
about writinghttp://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/336866_writerinresidence26.htmlhttp://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/336866_writerinresidence26.htmlhttp://seattlepi.nwsource.com/writers/brown.asphttp://seattlepi.nwsource.com/writers/brown.aspshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3