Saturday, August 9, 2014

Victoria Kabluyen Interview (1) — Of Dragon Fish and Black Swans

One of an ongoing series of interviews with my collaborator on a series of illustrations for the mystery-thrillerArisugawa Park, which is set in Japan.


I met Victoria Kabluyen by chance at a Kwan International poker event, while in Las Vegas covering the World Series of Poker. Ms. Kabluyen introduced herself as an entrepreneur developing the GPS-based convention tracker app, for keeping track of colleagues, leads, and contacts in a large-scale convention setting. I introduced myself as a poker enthusiast who had recently won the record-breaking 49 hour marathon APT- Resorts World Manila Ironman tournament, the deepest-structured tourney in NLHE history. As it turned out neither of these achievements was at the core of our creative identities.

I discovered through an online gallery that Ms. Kabluyen is an accomplished artist, with a number of pictures that strongly reminded me of my time in Japan. The wheels in my brain immediately started turning, as I have always been drawn to books with illustrations (I know these are frowned upon in certain literary circles). Like Ms. Kabluyen’s art, I like to think that my book, set in Japan, mixes the traditional with an edgy, contemporary patina. Timeless. Good words deserve good art.

I was particularly drawn to Ms. Kabluyen’s pastel illustration of a woman in black leotard, Irina. She has a similar air of deep, pensive, thought as my character Eve Petersons—an Eastern European hostess in Tokyo, who is framed for the the love hotel murder of a salaryman.

In particular, her attitude and expression seemed similar to a scene in which Eve changes her hair color from blonde to dark brown, in order to mask her identity and evade the police. It also reminded me of magazine illustrations from the 1940s—the stuff from which pulp-detective dynasties were born. (Just saw Pulp Fiction—finally understood its fractured narrative and black humor, almost.)

I was also drawn to the complex patterning of Pray, as it reminded me of the intricate dyed cloth patterns I encountered in Japan. It became apparent that the book would be a good match for Ms. Kabluyen’s talents. But was she interested? I could not offer any money, just an offer of exposure and shared royalties if we did an illustrated edition (e-book?) together.

The amazing thing is that Ms. Kabluyen, who claimed not to have read a book since high school, devoured AP and was quickly on board. The novel had apparently created a personal connection with her. (Note: I just write the damn books, I do not actually take the characters as seriously as readers do — I know just how often they have changed words and actions in the past 9 years.) In any case, I now had the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to collaborate on the illustrations for a book I had written. And not just any illustrations. Masterful ones. Bon Chance!


As a way of exploring the roots of her artistic vision, I asked Ms. Kabluyen if she would be interested in participating in an ongoing interview series, and she graciously agreed. Our first topic is how her approach to art has evolved over the years.

DS: How did you get into art?

VK: I have been very creatively driven since I can remember. My goal with my artwork has always been to provide viewers with something they will remember—something that lingers and stays with them.

DS: What was the first piece of art you remember making a big impression on others?

VK: Throughout high school, I enrolled in regular and advanced art classes. I entered a competition and submitted Dragon Fish—a massive 30"x 40” piece. This is when I started mixing images that are not meant to be together, but are yet somehow cohesive. A juxtaposition that makes the viewer question the art and really try to understand it… I came in second.

DS: What is the meaning of Dragon Fish and how exactly did viewers react?

VK: I was concentrating on the competition, I wanted something big that almost filled the display board, so everyone could see it. I wanted it to be colorful and festive, but instead of having dragon heads I chose dragon fish, rare creatures from the depths of the ocean. Dragon fish cannot survive the light so they stay hidden—they are aggressive, dominant beings that are hard to find. Similar to the mythical dragon. The viewers thought it was great but the judges were not similarly impressed.

DS: You originally come from the Philippines, did this influence you?

VK: In the Philippines there is a high concentration of artists. I always say that 1 out of 5 Filipinos are artists—not just in fine art but also in the performing arts. There are a lot of artisans and craftsmen working in mediums from wood to metal, on sea & land. People think I’m great here but my cousins are amazing back home—more skilled in free-hand than me. I just do my best.

Living in the Philippines with intense competition, I would never have stood out. There was an enormous lack of resources (sketchbooks), tools (paintbrushes), and techniques—which I only had access to attending high school and the Arts Institute here in the U.S.

DS: What was your next evolution after Dragon Fish?

VK: I attended the Art Institute for less than a year and they had a competition, which I did not enter. I was thinking of why the first place artwork won and my councilor suggested that one reason was that it showed a story, a transition point. Not a lot of artists can effectively convey this.

Looking back to Dragon Fish, I did not have a story behind it—I simply wanted to create a conceptually interesting piece. Going forward, I tried to create not just a story, but a pivotal moment that would impact the viewer on a deeper level. The first piece I completed with this in mind was a scene from the movie Black Swan.

This artwork shows the moment when Nina pulls a piece of barb from her back, realizing that her dream of being a swan is coming true and that she is growing feathers. She can’t believe it.

DS: A truly vivid, disturbing scene, as I remember. Black feathers.

VK: Yes, black feathers. My aesthetics just grew from there—realizing that I could capture emotion and move people with my art.

DS: I am no art critic but I personally like Dragon Fish best of the two. I find interest in the juxtaposition of traditional celebratory elements and unexpectedly combative heads. I see them as representing new, divergent views as one moves toward adulthood—a sudden blossoming of competitive spirit, perhaps. With Black Swan, I feel an intensity, perhaps an over-dramatization. Yet the colors are memorable and the piece is a step toward art that is more internalized and focused on capturing psychological states.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bridge Across

They lie there at your feet, in distinct colors––
the links and chains, spanning geography and ages,
arranged as candy bright offerings
for passage across

You can traverse any one,
but cannot change course 
until you are across somehow––

That is the bargain made––not with the devil,
but with the very forces that created 
arbitrary delineations in matter,
time and quantity, and the imperative to deliver.

I have crafted this, 
it comes from the heart of my dream––
A headdress lifted and set upon your 
noble face, tilted upward

A way to see and view what is around you––
if you keep it on
and hear my refrain

There is no need to escape,
or run from the totality of your mission

Only see if you can cut through the static 
without knowledge of span or destination,
take that leap as far as you can.

Artwork: Jardine April Limuran

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Modern Food Life: Three Ways to Totally Offend a Gourmand

1. Offer the food-loving victim Donut Pie. That’s right, the kind of pie that starts with two dozen glazed donut holes and ends with an orgy of eggs, butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Topped with sprinkles and drizzled icing. Leaving aside the matter of 1,100 empty calories per slice, I’ll torpedo this concoction on the basis of “flavor crimes against humanity” alone. What ever happened to rhubarb, Key lime, pistachio, and the other unobtrusive flavor profiles? Clearly, old favorites don’t have the artery-clogging pizzazz our nation of health-dunces seems to crave.

2. Offer the gourmet eater an omelet à la Effron, concocted of earthworms and pigeon eggs. The host of Running Wild Bear Grylls has perfected manly attributes such as drinking one’s own urine. However, there must be a limit to even the gastronomic discomfiture a masochistic survivalist will endure. Save the stomach-churning recipe for those without the wiles to realize that those earthworms, once digested, will replicate and birth aliens. As any fourth-grade reader of the children’s classic How to Eat Fried Worms can tell you, night crawlers (not earthworms) are the way to go.

3. Order the Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco Supreme. Gee Taco Bell, you outdid yourself. Not only did you denigrate the humble taco with your sour cream-whiz and over-seasoned mystery meat concoction, but you placed the ingredients in an oversized Dorito. You’ve drowned out whatever pseudo Mexican flavors inhabit a crunchy tortilla with a 10-year-shelf-life, and replaced it with obscene amounts of emulsifier, salt, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, and disodium insinuate. The bottom line is that any taco which leaves a fluorescent residue on the fingers, and on which a squeeze of lime detracts from a bouquet of lab-formulated flavors, is corrosive to the palate and the soul. Toss it in the garbage heap immediately and allow it to break down and become inert over the course of a half-life of 2,444 years. 


Posted at Medium, a very similar article (experiments in cross linking). Please feel free to explore Medium, join, share, and recommend my posts––and I'll gladly do the same.