Monday, November 26, 2012

From Tapestry Room into the Garden: New Oil Paintings by Elsie Sanchez

Elsie Sanchez, BREATHE, oil on canvas, 2011. 56 x 68." Courtesy of the artist.
The Keny Galleries in Columbus are showing Elsie Sanchez's work of the past two years. The show runs through December 7. 

Sanchez's medium is oil paint. Her canvases have a teeming, gnarly fluency; they feel as though the paint climbed and gathered itself onto the surfaces. Her paintings seem like acts of will and idea; of partnership with paint, rather than use of it. 

Any single piece in this highly sensual body of work exerts a powerful attraction. Sanchez does not stint on color nor does she dilute it. Since she works in small strokes and patches, her canvases define "teeming." BREATHE, from 2011, is what she would call a "tapestry," fascinated as she is with the process of weaving. It's an excellent metaphor for what she has made, a surface of great depth and texture, the warmth of which enfolds the viewer at first glance. It radiates into the room; it vibrates, pulsates. Yet it is stable; it is uniform, and its forms are clearly differentiated. From a distance, its "blue heart" is evident.

BREATHE detail. Author photo.
BREATHE is over 4-1/2 by 5-1/2 feet in size. Sanchez painted it—as she does everything—without more than a few marks—without prior drawing or guidelines—on the canvas. The even flow of the color units and outlinings are the result of her slow, contemplative process, which equally values each individual daub of paint. Close inspection of her canvases makes this radiantly clear, for every form has a unique and personal air; each stands out never as a rushed repetition, but as a deliberate and considered statement. If we, as viewers, put any amount of time at all into standing before this painting, we will find it difficult not to compare the inherent will and movement of our bodies with the highly colored regularity of the canvas; to feel a sense of the brilliant variety and depth available within the concept of patient regularity.

Elsie Sanchez, Sanctuary II, 2012. Oil on canvas, 20 x 18."
Courtesy of the artist.
Sanchez has been moving in a new direction, from the weaving model into work that both organically and logically extends it. Her work of 2012 continues the pods of color, but in a mixture of different sizes, shapes, and relationships; in new palettes; and, as a result, with new illusion of depth back and forth through the painting's surface. Had Van Gogh painted abstractly, would it have looked like this? It's a moot question, but Sanchez's forms and colors in Sanctuary II may remind viewers of the Dutch painter. There may even be an impulse to describe the writhing shapes as "tormented" or "tortured." 

I think this painting approaches the pictorial, though, in having sections that are defined by different colors (ochres and pinks of the top compared to lower greens and blues), shapes (the flames of yellow leaping up) and even the suggestion of foreground, as in the peaks that arise from the bottom edge of the canvas. Sanchez's color choices have eased into the pastel region from the highly saturated primary and secondary colors, making for a vernal palette. Rather than torment, I tend to feel in the image the dense violence of spring's growth, the riot of nature's forms and colors shoving and unfolding themselves into the light.

Elsie Sanchez, Response, 2012. Oil on canvas. 32 x 26." Courtesy of the artist.

Response detail. Author photo.
The two most recent paintings in the Keny show move even farther into suggestions of the botanical, or into that sensuous area where floral and sexual intertwine. In Glimpse and Response, a palette considerably reduced and refined to golden yellow and crimson is opulent, tactile, suggestive. The eyes travel the curves of these surfaces like a lover's over a concubine's; the hands wish to do the same, so thickly applied and rich is the paint. If the canvas reminds us a little of Klimt's golden opulence of lovers, this is, by contrast, all expression. No figures are present or required to convey the freedom, the intensity, or the artful control of the feeling of the botanical and sexual this painting conveys. 

I find Response a thrilling work. I love it for what Sanchez does extraordinarily well: She conveys the pinnacle of emotion and sensation; the sense of smoldering passion both fresh and studied— sustained just short of the consuming flame.
Elsie Sanchez, Glimpse, 2012. Oil on canvas. 32 x 28."
Courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Porcelain of the Possessed: Julie Elkins at Sherrie Gallerie

Julie Elkins, Lily Can't Sleep. Porcelain and porcelain stains. Author photo.
Note tiny bed in midst of rubble at top of the sculpture.
Julie Elkins' porcelain is positively weird. It's the sort of thing that stops you in your tracks, sets your jaw dangling in disbelief, and your eyes scanning the corners for secret cameras: "Is this a joke?" Elkins' current show at the Sherrie Gallerie in Columbus, due to close the week after Thanksgiving, is full of late-October, perilous, gothic exaggerations: abandoned, derelict buildings; deep earth packed with mortal remains; lonely shacks shuddering in the wind; and spooky, talking tree stumps of the rotted, Halloween sort. And yet, here we are in the gallery of Joe Bova and the sublime Davide Salvatore. On the other hand, we are alerted that we are in for something different here. The name of the show is, "Misadventures of a Ceramic Artist Lost in Paradise."

If at first the visitor is surprised to see work that resembles set designs or storyboards for animations, they wouldn't be far off. Elkins is a story-teller who doesn't write, but who compresses her imaginings, which spring from the world observed around her, into one artifact at a time. Not an artist to work in the tradition of her material, Elkins brings her materials to her own narrative purposes. But if you insist on on the functional soul of ceramics and serve canap├ęs off Lily Can't Sleep, then you've probably found a kindred soul in this artist.
Lily Can't Sleep, detail of room construction.
Author photo.
Elkins is a miniaturist on a monumental scale. In Lily Can't Sleep, above, she not only represents an abandoned, destroyed bedroom, down to the details of lathe behind the broken plaster wall, structural uprights behind the lathing, and the exterior wall executed brick by brick, but she has also articulated each element of the rubble, the precarious, post-disaster earth on which the ruin stands, and a blasted, anthropomorphized tree, clinging for dear life to the fragile world. Not only is the detail of the work awe-inspiring, but so is the feat of cantilevered work, miraculously stable despite its apparent will to fall over.
Lily Can't Sleep, detail of rubble.
Author photo

Elkins brings to her work in ceramics a willingness to tell stories in any medium available to her:  "I'm good at telling stories; I want to pull them from life wherever I see people interacting." As a child, she liked to draw people. This interest was continued when, as a teen, her father presented her with sections of a felled cherry tree and she learned how to use wood-burning equipment to draw portraits into the wood slabs. She is also a puppeteer, used to putting on silent plays that she and her husband devise—they write the scripts and make the puppets.

Julie Elkins, Yolandi the Sea Witch. Stoneware and stains.
Author photo.
Yolandi, detail. Author photo.
Elkins is currently making busts, like Yolandi, the Sea Witch, covered with barnacles. It's a life-size work—like all of hers,  fabulously detailed. The face is so life-like that I asked her if there's a model, and it seems that there is, though there was not a sitter. The face is based on images of a singer Elkins admires. "I was hoping to find a Muse," she explains, so she decided that being a fan was close enough. It seems to have worked, for even with all the fantastical elements—the crazed skin at the scalp line; the huge accretion of barnacles; the eyes without pupils—the face is almost disconcertingly easy to engage with. 

Most of the work in Elkins' show is black and white. It is not glazed because the weight of glazes would overpower and fill in the extreme delicacy of her manipulations. The stain she uses is pure pigment mixed with clay body, rubbed into the clay. Black is the color she has chosen, not a default.

Julie Elkins, The Factory. Porcelain and porcelain stain, acrylic
paint. Author photo.
Note the two mouths, left and right, beneath the surface.
When she uses color, though, the contrast heightens the inherent drama of the work. The Factory is an astonishing piece on every level, and the use of minutely painted graffiti on the walls of the abandoned industrial building underscores Elkins' ability to place high realism (the extreme, accurate detail) in an imagined, symbolic environment (a cut-away of the Earth, which speaks, being filled with the bones of the dead.) Her observations are so keen, so many, and so precisely rendered as to provide unusually secure grounding for the rest of the scene that she imaginatively posits. There is a conviction to her imagination that she really doesn't have to sell us; we are sold by her attention to the normal, the scenes that all of us see every day.

Mouth and bones in the earth beneath The Factory. 
Detail photo by the author.

Elkins is working in Key West, Florida, where she and her husband moved via a masted sixty-foot canoe when things went south for them in Richmond, Virginia. Their two-and-a-half month trip on the Intercoastal Waterway provided considerable grist for her imaginative mill, one that was already convinced about the reality of ghosts and metaphysical realities.

Julie Elkins, Strong Wind, Earth, and Sky. Porcelain and
porcelain stain. Author detail photo.
That habit of mind permeates Elkins' work, which, the busts excepted, is entirely depopulated. What she gives us are ruins, abandoned buildings, and these set in such a way that we are mindful of their connections to the earth—the collector of our bones and absorber or our detritus. So while she does not present us with figures in her scenes, the human presence is felt everywhere in her work. Lily who is not in her bedroom haunts the remaining space; as do the people who used to keep the factory working when we were an industrial country; or whoever occupies the lonely shack situated between Strong Wind, Earth, and Sky. 

Even with the suggestion that humans do not move alone on the planet—that trees have arms and the earth itself can speak—Elkins' fanciful world strikes me as a  place of comfort. Even through bleak scenes, spirits stir to suggest that wherever humans have been, heat and heart remain. It's certain that whatever Elkins puts her dedicated hand to is animated by just those qualities.
Julie Elkins, detail from Beasties. Porcelain and porcelain stain. Author photo.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dennison W. Griffith: "The Power of the Mark"

Dennison W. Griffith, Soliloquy, #31, 2012.
Encaustic on panel, 50 x 39.5."
Dare I stand right up and say it out loud? Dennison W. Griffith's work in his current show, The Power of the Mark, is full of sweetness and light. It is lovely to look at, delightful to know. The palettes of his paintings are the confectioner's window on a rainy day. His wiry, droopy drawings suggest that if nature be held together only by our confidence, still, it seems to work, doesn't it? The assurance and joy in his work balance the mysteries that put us on edge. There's no lack of tension in Griffith's work, but I never leave it without feeling somehow reassured. What could be wrong in a world like this?

The Power of the Mark, is showing at  Hammond Harkins, Griffith's gallery in Bexley, Ohio, until November 25. The show includes not only the paintings and drawings that I discuss, but also a show of photographs with its own title, Museum Studies, and an installation constructed of snow fence situated around the entrance to Capital University, across the street from the gallery. This is a very impressive body of work for any artist to have produced during 2011 and 2012, perhaps the more so for Griffith, who is also the very visible, deeply engaged president of Columbus College of Art and Design. Making art is the last thing the president of any institution would be expected to do. 

Dennison W. Griffith, Soliloquy #35, 2012.
Encaustic on panel, 60 x 48."
Griffith's paintings and drawings fill two gallery rooms to such fine effect that I found myself having to make an effort to ponder any work as an individual. For one thing, the paintings all explore the same ground—or air? or micron of cellular matter? or sprinkle of licorice pastilles falling from the candy bag? The elliptical form has fascinated this painter for a long time: His last show at Hammond Harkins featured paintings with similar forms drifting through the picture plane; but those figures and planes were both busier and less substantial. There is a reflective, unhurried, intentional air about the suspension and drift of these forms through their mysterious medium. We wonder not only what they are and where they are going—for it's impossible that they are not moving—but how and why we are given this window onto them. Are these views of an infinite phenomenon? Of a unique event? Of the single brilliant moment in an eternity of viscous dullness? 

The backgrounds, though, which at first glance appear murky, are composed of the colors of ellipses; they are dense mists of largely unseparated colors. This puts the the bold colors of the lozenges into meaningful relationship with their environments, creating not only the visual warmth, but a warming sense for the direction of their possible interpretations.

Dennison W. Griffith, Untitled #8, 2012.
Acrylic and graphite on paper, 29.5 x 34," framed.
Griffith's interest in drawing is never far away in his painting. He always incorporates the gestural—or, it seems, he has to work against his impulse to let the ebullient mark carry him too far. In both the paintings above, the rings generated by repeated gestures add to the pleasure of the paintings, increasing the ambiguity and intrigue of the images, giving us more evidence for our questions about the substantiality of this created world.

So it's wonderful that Griffith's new series of spontaneous, untitled drawings is hung interspersed with the paintings in this show. I enjoy this style of mark-making, in which the artist works intuitively and allows himself to take what comes. This is not work in which one puts down marks, studies, erases, and goes at it again. The artist "just does it" without erasure or major modification. He takes the risk, and it works or doesn't. Often, it doesn't, so it requires honesty of eye and judgment, and brave confidence to work this way. (It also requires a willingness to dedicate a lot of expensive paper to drawings that won't see the light of day.)

The drawings feel simple and very light, yet the forms have gravity, sometimes more than those in the paintings. In Untitled #8, the contrast between the the very light colors of the paint, applied to the widely spaced loops he forms with it, contrasts effectively with the graphite. Usually reading as gray, here graphite feels black by contrast. As Griffith deploys it in the smudged drops and pools it reads as molten lead. Floating loops of light; heavy lumps of lead (almost literally), with horizons or guy-wires of floss and cable.

Dennison W. Griffith, Untitled, #10, 2012. Acrylic and graphite on paper, 29.5 x 34," framed.
Untitled #10 combines many of Griffith's characteristic ideas on one sheet of paper. The vernal colors neither fight with nor absorb the graphite "stones," but coexist with them gracefully: Their energy fields are self-contained; they don't repel one another. The bold, graphite marks in the center appears to have three-dimensional presence, due to the oblique ring that serves as a sort of shadow, and the incomplete oval they overlap, effectively creating a background. Thus he allows the illusion of three dimensional space, continued by the yellow marks that move out on  oval "shadow's" plane. 

But the yellow falls behind the descending column of shapes overpainted with white. These, and the extended form at the top right, again suggest the floating events from indefinite space, like we've seen in his paintings. Yet the easy, spontaneous, expressive quality of the marks here are particularly charming. We can see the sorts of ideas that are on the artist's mind, but we see him letting them take him away on a flight of fancy: We don't see him exercising his control over the picture, tightening everything up, reigning things in. 

Viewing this sheet, we can well imagine the delight that Griffith experienced, holding his brush very lightly and then pushing very hard on his graphite stick to make these marks. Our pleasure is in riding the soft currents of his experience—the lovely marks—to wherever they can take us in space, idea, mood, or season.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Annie Leibovitz at the Wexner Center: The Self-Portrait

Even on  a weekday afternoon, The Ohio State University's Wexner Center for the Arts bustles and buzzes with blue-haired ladies in Chanel and blue-haired students in charity shop. All move entranced among the two-hundred-plus photographs by the paragon of contemporary photojournalism, Annie Leibovitz. 

This outstanding show, Annie Leibovitz, is composed of two shows, really. First is the one-hundred and fifty-six photograph Master Set, the artist's limited edition, museum-quality, archival-pigment prints of selected works. The Wexner is justifiably proud to be the first institution to host the entire Master Set.

The other shows selections from Leibovitz's recent Pilgrimage series, organized by the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Leibovitz traveled to photograph still lifes, landscapes, or close-up details of objects associated with great people she admires, like Georgia O'Keefe, Ansel Adams, Annie Oakley, Abraham Lincoln and John Muir. 

This is a massive, stimulating show that generates a superabundance of ideas. For instance: Concurrently in Columbus, the Schumacher Gallery at Capital University is showing photos of American presidents from Associated Press archives: I'd love to compare those with Leibovitz's portraits of presidents, first ladies, and presidential entourages.

In a fine catalogue (graciously distributed gratis thanks to a grant from the Express company), Wexner curator Bill Horrigan discusses Leibovitz as an artist. In a reprinted interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Leibovitz discusses her career largely in terms of seizing the opportunities of journalism. She was a renegade from the art school rejection of commercialism when she started at fledgling Rolling Stone; she speaks about learning to work with editors and how to win them to her point of view. I'd like to look at specific works through these two perspectives that are always available on her work. 

And then, of course, there's her relationship not to any single celebrity, but to the whole topic of celebrity. Through whose images better than hers to compare the presidents and the rock stars?

Since the entire Annie Leibovitz exhibition opened in late September (it runs through the end of the year), I've mentally noted, however, that the press coverage has been very light on substantial comment, beyond general adoration of her body of work. I haven't seen more than a couple representations of her photographs, though there have been plenty of pictures of Leibovitz herself—the sorts of pictures that social editors or Kremlinologists love.

But as it turns out, neither will I be writing about any issues, qualities, or details in Leibovitz's work. That's because she imposes strict conditions on press use of images from the show. From the over two hundred works, only eighteen are available for reproduction, including one self-portrait. The Conditions of Use page in the press packet tells me that, "Internet magazines and bloggers may use only one photograph plus portrait [of Annie]." I mustn't feel like my medium in particular is cut out: Print publications—which made her own career and continue to—get two (plus Annie, "if desired.") 

The pleasure of writing this blog is the pleasure of taking readers along, of being able to point to what I'm talking about. Readers can look at the art, and we can begin a conversation about it, "on the spot," as it were. They can evaluate my ideas immediately: Are they valid, or nonsense? In any event, we get the wheels in motion. The topics are art and ideas; excitement, engagement.

I can appreciate a photojournalist's dilemma: how to maintain her rights to well-known images that are much loved and easily reproduced? Every dorm room in the land might be papered with snuggling John and Yoko were the photographer not vigilant.

But is copyright protection really the issue in limiting reviewers' access to images? Does this perennial problem justify restrictions not only on the reproduction of her work for any purpose, but on its availability for critical discussion? 

One has to wonder if this is a show of art by Annie Leibovitz, or a show of her personal property? Do we understand her as an artist who has, like other artists, willingly released her work into the world (and who has been, unlike many, paid for it)? 

One reads that Leibovitz has faced financial difficulties. Most artists do. But this is not the business of the art-going public, nor is it the business of those of us who try to explore, discuss, and broaden the impact of art. To mount such a huge show and restrict the use of discussable images to one or two is a pinched act indeed in the very generous realm of art and ideas.

Yes, we all may go to an address on High Street in Columbus, Ohio to see the show—if we can.  But accessible discussion of art usually takes place remotely these days, in the press. And thinking people recognize that the best conversations deal in specifics, not in generalities. This would seem especially to pertain to work that is as based in particularity of place, moment, and focus as is Leibovitz's. 

Critical discussion is the artist's friend. It cultivates intelligent notice and interest. It asks viewers to slow down, linger, ask questions, to seek understanding and to incorporate the artist's work into their own experience. Good criticism isn't about the artist's finances or celebrity.
Annie Leibovitz, Plano, Illinois, 2011.
© Annie Leibovitz

But to the left, I reproduce the portrait of the artist. She knows, Wexner knows, we all know her to be quite as much of a celebrity as anyone else she's photographed. 

I forgo the privilege of that second image I'm allowed to choose. When it comes down to it, to select and reproduce one of the other seventeen would feel pretty arbitrary. For the purposes of a good discussion, though, no single image in this show provides as much material about the artist's  talent, vision, or methods as their withholding provides for this consideration of the importance of liberality in encouraging discussion of one's work.

The reproduced image, left, is the single subject that the artist permits to appear in any conversation, critical or otherwise, of this fine show. This may be what the subject is, but it's not what it should be.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Loving Observation : "After Schizophrenia," by Margaret Hawkins

Margaret Hawkins remembers her older sister, Barb, as a high school senior in 1961, "anointed by luck, not only beautiful, but self-aware, put together, confident...She appears [in a photo] not to have had an awkward day in her life."

In 1974, Hawkins rushes back home from college to welcome Barb and her adoring husband Karim, who has brought his wife home from Iraq for medical help. Barb, Hawkins says, "didn't seem to quite understand who we were." Her big sister speaks in a variety of accents and shouts obscenities. But, ultimately, "Barb didn't seem unhappy, she just wasn't there."

After Schizophrenia: The Story of My Sister's Reawakening After 30 Years is Margaret Hawkins' self-effacing memoir of being the person who spent her own thirty years creating the circumstances in which her homebound, undiagnosed schizophrenic sister could stay the course and get the help to move beyond mental illness. We learn Margaret's story through her focus on Barb, returning as an adult to the protection of her loving parents. But once Barb returns home in 1974, until 2006, when both parents are dead, she receives not a single mental health intervention. No attempt is made to diagnose, cure or even to alleviate her symptoms. 

Barb's parents simply accommodate their daughter and arrange their lives around her presence. Mrs. Hawkins feels less lonely having her daughter home. Mr. Hawkins's protective sense of purpose goes into overdrive. After his wife dies, Mr. Hawkins focuses his very considerable energy and intelligence on providing everything in the present and future for his disabled daughter—everything except the medical care she so obviously needs and the author is helpless to bring about.

If ever there were a topic for willful blindness; for spite disguised as concern; for grandiosity aping humility, it is when one is thrust into years as a caretaker one never aspired to be. Throughout After Schizophrenia, Hawkins struggles with the personal cost of her family involvement. She is unfailingly ambitious to see Barb cured. She is consistently empathetic in her desire that Barb not be lonely, and also that she not be bullied by their loving but overbearing father. During her father's lifetime, Hawkins lives like a guardian angel in a no-fly zone: She can neither get too close to the arrangement between Barb and her father without upsetting a delicate balance, nor can she stay away without the feeling that she is leaving Barb at peril. 

But we are blessed never to feel ourselves in the hands of a martyr author. When their father makes a will, putting everything in trust for Barb and designating Margaret the trustee, Hawkins pulls no punches about her feelings: "When the time came," she declares, "I could blow it off, leave it to my brother...go AWOL, leave town, leave the country." In characteristic, woodpeckerish, non-nonsense prose she continues: "Specifically and selfishly, I didn't want him to pressure me to promise to move Barb into my house to care for her as my parents had, though it was exactly what he and the world at large expected of me. Once, years before, he'd said in his most sentimental way, after we'd both had too much to drink at lunch, that he imagined one of us...would build 'a little house for Barb out back' as the neighbors had done for their elderly father years before. At the time, all I could think of was Mr. Jones and how when little girls took him May baskets, he'd stand in the doorway and slyly part the folds of his bathrobe like theater curtains to display his musty crotch. That my father now romanticized that arrangement made me furious." 

Hawkins doesn't divulge details of her work life, but she paints a convincing picture of herself as a fully-employed professional woman with a full calendar of obligations. Once she becomes Barb's guardian, this full life, lived in her own home with her partner, competes with the other full existence: regular visits to her sister, shopping for her, managing and maintaining the crumbling, hundred-year-old family house that Barb is literally unable to leave. Hawkins's wakeful nights are given to anxieties about financing home health aides, fixing the failing plumbing, and figuring out how to get medications for an undiagnosed, housebound schizophrenic.

The book's jacket identifies who the glossed-over narrator Margaret Hawkins is: "a writer, critic, curator, and educator whose reviews and essays have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, ARTNews, and other publications for over twenty years. She currently teaches writing in the Art History and New Arts Journalism departments at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Hawkins is the author of two novels, A Year of Cats and Dogs, and How to Survive a Natural Disaster." These are among the activities never specified in the background of her life as she continues—never without ambivalence—pouring vast physical, moral, financial and psychic energies into improving Barb's life and health.

Hawkins is alive to every nuance of change in Barb's social presence and she creates concern equal to hers in the reader. We are prepared to weep with relief when Barb, after years of skirting Margaret, matter-of-factly sits down next to her on the couch. When Margaret and a  home assistant enable Barb to venture out the door onto the screened porch, we know it's a historic moment, a moon-landing, and we cheer the monumental achievement: We've been along for the thirty years of frustration and concern to get Barb a single breath of fresh air. But we have also seen that such victories are not achieved as tricks played on an unsuspecting child. Hawkins has faith in Barb's intelligent consciousness. She believes Barb to be aware and strategic; she never treats her as naive, stupid, or childish. 

Through persistence, persuasion, and the help of others, Hawkins does manage the impossible: She finds the psychiatrist who comes to the house to meet and diagnose Barb. After thirty years, it's a successful encounter and its consequences are immediately positive, and lasting.

But the stage is set for every change in Barb by circumstances orchestrated with loving patience and keen observation over the years in which Hawkins respects Barb's reality, never trying to persuade her to be other than she is, nor belittling her behavior. She trusts Barb's nature, despite her disease.

Hawkins assumes that Barb's motives and needs are essentially like everyone else's. Once their father dies, Hawkins makes this wonderful observation: "Barb was emerging from her shell, beginning to take charge of her environment. Certainly she was very ill, but maybe her withdrawal hadn't only been a result of her disease, I thought. Maybe, partly, it was something more basic, a response to not having had any privacy, any say over the conditions of her adult life...It seemed more and more obvious that the key to her recovery, as much as anything else, would be for us to honor any reasonable choices she made."

People tend to think that those suffering major mental illness are completely defined by their maladies—that there is an equivalence of identity and disease. Without any shade of polemic or even argument, Hawkins demonstrates the far more humane reality, that disease occupies one aspect of personality while the rest of the individual's life and self-awareness continue. From the very beginning of her observations of her altered sister, Hawkins sees what's there: she does not augment Barb's loud debates with her voices by interpreting them as the acts of aggression or violence that they are not; she does not overlook Barb's unfailing good manners, neatness, and continued love of good clothing and fabrics. In short, she allows the normal characteristics to coexist—as they in fact do—with the sickness. Including even her painfully honest assessments of her own missteps and anxieties, Hawkins is the ultimate trustworthy narrator is a genre that invites misguided ones and less than subtle observers.

Hawkins has written not only a penetrating story of a remarkable case of schizophrenia, but a haunting memoir of a great hearted and humble woman who refuses the temptation she meets at every turn to simplify the problems posed by her sister and mental illness. Would the reader blame her for finding Barb placement in a group home where she would have twenty-four hour care? For taking her to a doctor's office, like it or not? For administering Barb's medication, once she gets it, rather than trusting her to take it herself—as she does? Like the guardian of any mentally ill person, Hawkins would never be blamed for subsuming Barb's story into her own. Rather, she generously and bravely blends her own life story with Barb's, where the potential for growth is greatest for both.

What a brilliant decision. What awe-inspiring struggles and discoveries. What an unusual portrait of lives genuinely blended. For a true love story of dignity and consequence, you will do no better than Margaret Hawkins' remarkable portrait of sisters keeping their eyes on one another, sharing growth and conviction across the years.

After Schizophrenia is available through bookstores (ISBN 978-1-57324-535-7) or through Amazon .