To look up from the text and find the audience intent on the slides, the occasional smile or nod of recognition, of connection, laughter at some of the passages. Amazing. Priceless. A number of them mentioned having heard me on the radio earlier in the week, talking with Capitol Public Radio host Beth Ruyak about the book. The interview is online here.
It was a family affair too. With both of my sisters in attendance. Youngest daughter operating the projector. Oldest son solving the computer glitches that threatened to derail the presentation, minutes before the seats began to fill. Friends and colleagues I've been fortunate to meet since beginning this journey just a few years ago were there too, members of a vibrant Sacramento writing community who have been more generous and welcoming than I could have hoped or imagined. And there were new faces, hearing the stories and experiencing the images for the first time.
One of the audience members raised his hand, and said, shoulders hunched in half apology, "The work is kind of derivative. But it's good."
My younger sister cringed at the word, derivative. But it was fine. We had a conversation about the notions of "derivative" and "original" in art. Because who but the first primitive man, or woman, smearing plant dyes on the walls of a cave, can claim their work doesn't reflect outside influences. So, yes, Joe Rice was influenced by others, but he also distinguished himself from those he admired. Much of his work, particularly the blend of geometric abstraction and surrealism he perfected in the 60s and 70s, is uniquely his own.
And the woman who came up at the end, the display copy of The Reluctant Artist in her hands, slips of paper marking a dozen illustrations she wanted to show me, to tell me what they reminded her of, the memories they evoked, how when she was much younger she'd sketched a woman and child only to be told it was derivative of Picasso. At the time, as an adolescent, she was devastated and didn't draw again for many years. "Now I understand these images are out there, in the collective unconscious, so to speak," she said, "part of who we are, all of us."
It was an amazing coming full circle kind of feeling, to be able to bring these memories of the San Francisco of a different generation back to the City where Dad arrived from the Philippines, with his mother and older sister, in the early 30s and where he graduated junior high and high school.