Social & Cultural Studies
Published: Apr 11, 2012
Hand (Illyria) returns with a surreal tale of art’s ability to transcend time. In 1978, Merle Tappitt, a talented painter and graffiti artist, is kicked out of art school (where she had been having an affair with a teacher). Merle takes to the streets of Washington, D.C., and runs into a legendary, now homeless guitarist, Ted Kampfert, who points her toward a lockhouse by a canal where she can spend the night. Meanwhile, in 1870, 16-year-old poet Arthur Rimbaud sets out for Paris, also bedding down in a lockhouse. The next morning, Merle and Arthur awake together in 1978. Merle and Arthur, both gay, form a mystical bond, time-slipping between their worlds, each influencing the other to produce great art. Hand’s descriptions of art and poetry as they are being made are breathtaking—“In front of me was a whorl of black and red, emerald vines and orange flame, a shifting wheel of shadowy forms like those cave paintings drawn in charcoal”—and her troubled, beautifully drawn characters make the heart ache.