It is not really a debate, more like an on-going discussion on the Post-Modern Condition from the point of view of a rabbit and a kitty cat. They are constantly asking each other questions, and pointing out the contradictions in both the real and imagined worlds surrounding them, leading to a long list of interesting philosophical problems which often begin in The Artist’s studio.
“Maybe it comes from her imagination, so it’s not real at all.”1
“‘You don’t always want to imagine something,’ Kitty Boy answered. ‘Sometimes you just do it: it comes to you whether you want it or not.’”2
“I think I get it now, Rabbit thought. I’ve been taking this situation seriously. But the whole thing is a joke, the dancing rabbits and the pink flower and the torn-up field. It isn’t really happening. I thought it was a dream, or eating the flowers, or my imagination, or The Artist’s new painting. It’s just a joke someone is playing on me.”3
In the new publication “Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy” the main characters are of course Rabbit and Kitty Boy, along with one or two supporting characters such as Bo-Doggie. Then there are two other main characters, “The Artist” and “The Writer” who are often referred to and always seem as gods to the animal characters. Kristy Deetz and Edward S. Louis are the creators of this fictional story: the series of paintings depicting the animals and their adventures and the text that so aptly describes the world in which they exist.
The paintings are seen at first as patterns repeated across a background fabric. The animals are flattened and fitted together in order to hold that plane. However, placed just in front of this screen, are a series of small ceramic animal sculptures, coming forward in space. And finally, in front of this backdrop, the characters of Rabbit and Kitty Boy come to life. This after having discovered that they have jumped off of the picture plane and can now see themselves as separated from the patterned background. This is a startling existential recognition. This is also where the confusing discussion regarding the difference between the modern and the post-modern and the function of the imagination begins. We are seeing and experiencing three levels of plastic space, as well as three levels of literary irony and parody. The two fit perfectly together like a fine glove.
There are many questions in any discussion of the ekphrastic tradition and two of the most important ones ask: are these paintings illustrations of the stories, or are the stories true literary reactions/responses to already existing works of visual art? These same questions, regarding several other historical artists immediately come to mind: both the poems and prints of William Blake, the classic French story and the accompanying drawings for “Le Petite Prince” by Antoine St. Exupery, and the many versions and editions of “The Fables of La Fontaine.” These works of visual art and the writing are seemingly inseparable. We must add to this list the new work created by the artist Kristy Deetz and the writer Edward S. Louis.
Their work also raises new questions not just regarding the ekphrastic tradition, but also related to the post Post-Modern era. In recent years we have become lost in a jumble of images, meanings, and interpretations of every little thing, very often losing track of any original ideas. In literature, art and even architecture, certain forms and images were re-introduced into the overall content of this era that came after the Modern one. Although this was all supposed to become more enlightening, it most often led to confusion. Beginning with a sense of historical playfulness, this point of view was soon replaced with parody, irony, and even out right joking!
Over the years, Deetz has been producing a series of “Veil Paintings” investigating the idea of “Nature Morte” and giving life back to certain objects and imagery. Adding to this, a new series titled “Holidays Unfolding” explores certain contradictions in the phenomenon of seeing. In painting, the process of applying the paint itself becomes a metaphor for the subjects of a still life: laying on the under-painting and the background; developing and arranging the drapery; and finally the arrangement of objects in an overall composition. Although the resulting life is still, a closer seeing of the paintings will reveal a lot of shifting movement.
Through correspondence with both Kristy Deetz and Edward S. Louis I have discovered several unique interrelationships regarding their work. Describing this process, Deetz writes: “The painted fabric, ellipses, and patterned fabric in the paintings act as limina or thresholds that, along with the accompanying images and forms, place the viewer into multiple, often conflicting, layers of space and meaning. . . . The paintings good-humoredly deconstruct imagery from my own painting history, as well as from pop and high culture to create new ‘spaces’ of meaning. The paintings also contain dark humor, visual puns, symbols and metaphors, moments of silence, art historical allusions, and spiritual conundrums.”
“Yes, our process is ekphrastic. I make the painting series and when completed Ed creates a story about the series. Rabbit and Kitty Boy evolved out of my Through the Veil series but appeared in other forms in past work. Our process is also somewhat collaborative. We are very self-directed but give each other feedback in the middle of things, on titles, visual puns, and finished products.” 4
The author Edward S. Louis, who has often taught on the subject of ekphrastics, has offered this definition to me: “Ekphrasis in Greek literally means to ‘tell out’ or ‘recount.’ By its nature it relies on collaboration, since it incorporates or encapsulates the original to which it responds. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, too, for me in the context of what ‘literary criticism’ means. I’ve argued in critical as well as creative outlets that our tradition has often drawn too firm a line between ‘scholarly’ work and ‘creative’ work. The creative is much better if it has a scholarly base, and scholarly work is more fun to read if it has a creative edge. Ekphrasis is an excellent means/mode to do critical and creative work at once.”
“The stories ‘illustrate’ the visuals (that, I think, is our major innovation, since it’s backwards of standard expectations). There would be no stories without the visuals. In some cases the stories explicate, whereas in others they derive from or expand on the paintings. So they both ‘tell out’ and ‘recount’ what the paintings do, as well as taking some latitude to introduce narrative possibilities that the paintings imply or inspire, sometimes one at a time or sometimes through the course of several at a time.”5
At the beginning of this adventure, these characters are speculating on many possibilities. Reflecting on all of this near the end, it is Kitty Boy who observes:
“Kitty Boy wondered. They all seem to be floating into that hole. Where does it go, and what will happen to them? That one looks a little like Rabbit, and that one: is it Bo-Doggie? And, hey! Is that one supposed to be me?”
“He was standing on the windowsill in the studio looking at The Artist’s new painting.”
“It showed many rabbits, all wearing masks—one that Kitty Boy thought looked like him—and they were all drifting up toward a large, black hole.”
“Back out of the hole came nothing but ghost rabbits, thin shadows of their former selves. But the live rabbits seemed not to care; they seemed not even to be aware of what they were doing. Ghost bats flew around the rabbits, but neither seemed to notice the other. A tablecloth that someone had been starting to sew was also drifting toward a hole, about to get tugged in. On top of the table another cloth unfolded—Kitty Boy wasn’t sure if it was a banderole or a toilet roll.”6
“Maybe imagining isn’t such a bad thing.”7
1 Deetz, Kristy, and Edward S. Louis; Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy; Elm Grove Publishing; San Antonio, Texas; 2021 & 2022; p. 15.
2 Deetz, Kristy, and Edward S. Louis; Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy; Elm Grove Publishing; San Antonio, Texas; 2021 & 2022; p. 16.
3 Deetz, Kristy, and Edward S. Louis; Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy; Elm Grove Publishing; San Antonio, Texas; 2021 & 2022; p. 33.
4 Deetz, Kristy; E-mail communication with this author; 10 October 2021, 5:43 PM.
5 Risden, Edward (aka Edward S. Louis); E-Mail communication with this author; 12 January 2022, 10:30 PM.
6 Deetz, Kristy, and Edward S. Louis; Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy; Elm Grove Publishing; San Antonio, Texas; 2021 & 2022; p. 77.
7 Deetz, Kristy, and Edward S. Louis; Holidays Unfolding: The Continuing Adventures of Rabbit and Kitty Boy; Elm Grove Publishing; San Antonio, Texas; 2021 & 2022; p. 95.