strings, attached {for illustration friday}

Wow, where do I start? Because for the better part of two years now I've been painting string right into my canvases, so that it becomes part of the artwork, and I've been calling this experiment (into how it affects the surface, texture, design, etc) the string series. So, in terms of Illustration Friday's theme today, I'm kind of all over it.

The above two paintings were the start of it; I wasn't happy with the way my easel held a canvas (it was firm but not immovable), so I decided to lash the thing to the frame.

* * * * *

The front cover (photograph by Alex Taves) of the new issue of Event, in which I have the illo and story below (also about strings, and the pain in cutting them).

Death of a Dictator
(My Iggly Education)

The dictator is dead. His people – and he would call them that, even now – are rejoicing. Especially in the Christian south, they dance and sing and spit gleeful curses to the ground. In the capital city of the north – where his body hangs in the parade square, in increasingly negative metamorphosis, man made into corpse chrysalis, now a pinata for the shouting crowds – the celebrations are ugly-fueled by hate. Iggly! they cry. Devil! Even a grandmother gets in on the fun, firing a pistol point-blank into his face. They showed that one on the news. There is no pity anymore. Everyone blames him for the war and the terror.

It’s human nature to concentrate on the bad. I don’t blame television for not knowing any better. But I knew this man as a man of great love and untroubled inner peace. 

We met on the internet, through a dating site. He sent me digital smiles. It was cute. Still, we did not click right away. I understood that dictators were difficult guys, with terrible reputations and story lines that rarely ended well. Like every girl, I just wanted something uncomplicated, to meet someone nice. 

Forget about all that, this will be different, he said. In the photographs he sent me he looked like he meant it: soft blue eyes and a flat, relaxed mouth. He looked more like a man who ran a library. And yet there was something dynamic about him, too. I always thought the footage they chose for the news was entirely misleading, those jackboots and high collars. Those mirrored sunglasses didn’t help either. 

He explained that it was just his public persona, that it was necessary to project a certain calculated ruthlessness. It’s just the job, he said. You know, all that cult of personality stuff. I’m different with you. You make me different.

He always knew what to say to me, how to shift my heart by inches. His instincts were finely attuned to soft spots and maneuver. Still, a part of me was well aware that behind the velvet charm was a necessary animal cunning. 

Necessary because he had come up the hard way, through the motorcycle-pilot gangs, singing We Will Not Be Defeated and those other drinking songs. His part in the coup had not been especially bloody but then came the purges and the desaparecidos and all that grim business euphemistically called consolidation of power. His new American friends left the usual fingerprints on the usual bags of cash. The dictator’s part was mainly to stand up straight and wave his fist from the balcony. It could have been anyone in that uniform. Meanwhile, he slept with loaded pistols in both hands. 

Everything was a confidence game. If people think I am finished then I am finished, he explained. It was difficult for me to know how much power he really had. But that voice! He persuaded me to get on a plane, to come live with him so we could start a life together. An armoured car was waiting for me at the airport. 

He took me on a tour of the palace and its grounds. In the botanical gardens I held his gloved hand, squeezed his knuckles one by one.  

That’s Italian leather, he said. By the way, you can never leave this place. 

That was his way of telling me that he loved me and wanted to protect me. His truth was in the details. It was what he was all about, trying to control the little things while out in the countryside the tribes were still killing each other in the wide swaths of age-old vendettas. I just want the trains to run on time, he said. He did his best. He was constantly working. The meetings went on night and day. There were reeducation teams, relocation teams, reallocation teams, rehabilitation teams, retaliation teams. 

I believe in teamwork, he said. 

Just don’t try to micromanage the world, I said.

It’s only a couple of lists, he said. You can get a lot done with the right list.

He’d wake up in the middle of the night and start scribbling in a notepad. One morning I took a look while he sang away in the shower. His handwriting was like a bed of snarled snakes.

Pick up ring.
Ask Teresa to marry me.
Buy more helicopter gunships.

We were married at the base of a pyramid. It was a beautiful ceremony, complete with a military parade. Then came the belly dancers and the snake charmers. The American ambassador gave us a white stallion called Anti-Communist, but I changed his name to Bootsie

We had five good years. Then terrorists blew up that airport in Los Angeles and all those judges died. When some American reporter wrote a story about how one of the terrorists had once worked for the dictator’s secret police, I knew it was the beginning of the end. Democracies are big on blunt revenge. 

Whereas before they only had crude sticky-bombs, now the Christian rebels had stinger missiles and proper dental care. No one talked about how dangerously socialist they were anymore. Instead the Senator from New York made speeches about our country being godless. 

As the security situation deteriorated so did our marriage. The firing squads kept me up at night, rattled my nerves. 

We should go, I said. We should leave this all behind. 

You cannot talk like that, he said.

So what? Now I’m not allowed to say how I feel?

I know what’s best, he said. 

Oh do you? Do you know what they’re all saying? That dictators are bad people! That they belong in hell! 

I know I am loved, he said, pulling on his bullet-proof vest. 

I couldn’t understand what he meant at the time. The assassination attempts picked up speed. He was shot at and bombed and laced with poison. The scars on his face ran like roadways to my fear. 

When the state is paranoid you live in a paranoid state. Then reality catches up to you. In the end they were all against him, it was in the graffiti all over the market, in the whispering clutches around the palace, I’d walk by and people would just stop and stare. Iggly, Iggly man! But the dictator didn’t care. 

I know I am loved, he said. 

How can you say that? I’d scream. 

But it was no use. He’d just smile and kiss me and say he had a phone call to make. He always said that. 

He sent me to stay in our villa in France. The next day rebels overran the palace. There are rumours that in the end he was still on the phone, smiling serenely, listening to a 1-900 number where nuns say prayers for you at $3.99 a minute, and tell you that God loves you, and all is forgiven. 

Iggly! they cry. But the truth is more complicated. Truth is, we need our dictators iron-fisted, because everyone likes a winner. Just like how I, even as a young girl, always liked the cocky boys, the ones you knew were lying to you. And the people will miss their Iggly Devil soon enough as well, when the tribes have only each other to hate, and wheel of murder spins back and forth, and none of the damn trains run on time.


  1. String really did hit the bulls eye here. Loved seeing the diverse work!

  2. Wow, strings are really a part of your art. How fortuitous today.

  3. I would love to commission you to paint a portrait of me and brian, or maybe my two cats in your string style... you're paintings are so unique, and remind me a little bit of robert munch's storybooks, but with their own uniqueness.

  4. Stunning and elliptical

  5. Good God Man! When you write it's not just words or do some godamned fancy magic with time

    ....or maybe it's just me.


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