Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

In Belgium

Wednesday, December 15th

Am now sitting in my room in the Metropole Hotel at the heart of the historical center of the European capital. This hotel, the only remaining 19th-century hotel, has loads of history behind it, it was the birthplace of the Black Russian cocktail in 1949. Most notably, the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world’s most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. The leading figures were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle,” remarked “God does not play dice.” Bohr replied, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.” (from Wikipedia)

Getting through customs was no problem, though it was tedious, and it took forever for the bags to be offloaded. Was picked up at the airport by Carl Wykaert and we came straight here. Unfortunately my room wasn’t ready so we left my bags with the concierge and went to see the gallery.

Petits Papiers has a very nice two-story space and they’ve framed and hung all the works in a well-organized way to show the works off to their best advantage.

Other than a couple of pages from a sequential story being out of order they did a great job. I’m looking forward to the opening! Built into the floor of this nice space is a line of hand impressions (the hands they draw with, I guess) of various artists and the various pens, pencils, etc. that they use in creating their work. I see the names of many wonderful artists I recognize represented there, all big names in sequential art. An interesting idea, to be sure.

After a pleasant cup of coffee with Alain Huberty, the owner of Petits Papiers, we next ran by Brüsel, one of the most amazing bookstores devoted to BD (bande dessinee – sequential narrative) I’ve ever been into. This is where the signing I did with Barron Storey was located during our show here in Brussels and Ghent in 2006. It’s an amazing place for anyone interested in BD. Albums, catalogues, limited edition prints and portfolios, original art, toys, you name it—it’s here. The staff is always incredibly helpful and gracious and Fred, the owner (I’ll supply his last name later) is incredibly knowledgeable about comics and art. I envy anyone who gets to frequent a store such as this. It’s the ultimate candy store for a fan of BD. This is where I’ll be having my first signing later today.

After touching base with Brüsel I asked Carl if we could go to the Tintin shop so I could look for gifts for my children. No problem! But while we are in the Grand Place we decide to run into an art exhibition of Hungarian Fauves. Brilliantly colored oil painting from a group of Hungarian painters who were influenced by the Fauves and who hung out in Gertrude Stein’s gatherings, etc. Some nice works. Interesting their use of holding lines in the work. And they certainly weren’t timid with the paint, ladling great gobs of scintillating colorful strokes onto the canvases.

Mmmmmm, paint!

This show was located in one of the many ornate edifices of the Guildhalls surrounding the large mall called the the Grand Place This is one of my favorite places to go in Brussels. I love the old gold-faced architecture reaching up into the sky. Just magnificent structures!

After some false trails we did get to the Tintin shop. Tintin, boy reporter with his faithful dog Snowy (Milou here in Belgium), is the literary/graphic brainchild of Hergé, Belgian cartoonist. Tintin is a cultural icon in Europe, and I grew up reading translations in my school library when I was a kid. I spent many long evenings reading Tintin to my son when he was younger, acting out all the characters voices. So there is a major soft spot for me with Tintin, and my son loves it all. Anyway, the shop is a fun one, albeit small. I picked up a few gifts and we headed out.

More later…

After a fine lunch of Belgian steak and frits (fries) we got back to my hotel and my room was ready. Carl would pick me up later. A quick bath and a change of clothes and it was time for my first signing at Brüsel.

The signing went really well. We were on the second floor of Brüsel in the prints and portfolios section. I think something like 25 to 30 people came for me to sign their copies of Enemy Ace (or Baron Rouge here). And something unique to Europe is they also bring sketchbooks for the artists to draw in as well. These books can range in quality from a mere sketchpad to a full-blown leather-bound book, and all are filled with some of the most beautiful sketches and drawings, sometimes paintings even. So the pressure is high to do something really nice in these books that are, quite literally, family heirlooms. These are not things that they will be selling but a treasure, really.

So I spent a good bit of time doing some very finished drawings in these beautiful books. Everyone wanted soldiers it seems, which isn’t surprising given the nature of the exhibition and my old novel. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs of the sketches, though Carl may have. If he has I’ll try and get some of them to post here later.

Update: found this on the web, posted by Juan, the owner.

The signing lasted several hours and was a lot of fun. Afterwards Carl and I went to dinner with Fred at a wonderful Belgian restaurant where we had some of that incredible Belgian beer, with steak and tiramisu for dessert.

Thursday December 16th

Slept well my first night in Belgium. Could barely keep my eyes open last night and finally just zoned totally out. Woke up around 4:30AM and wrote a bit of the material from earlier down. Sitting in my hotel room now for a little down time before the show tonight. Had three interviews this morning, one for the radio, one for a newspaper and one for an internet site. I’ll try and get more info on these later. The interviews went very well. Some interesting questions about my obsession with the First World War and other things. Europe, understandably, has memory of this war that is still fresh for most people, something which America does not have. So we discussed that a bit. Carl translated for me as he speaks French as well as Dutch.

Had my hand impression taken for the floor and am honored that I’ll be in such august company.

Had a nice lunch at a Vietnamese place, where we also conducted the final interview. The food was good, though spicy, and the conversation excellent. Went to a neat old bookseller and dug around a bit,then back to Brüsel where I indulged myself and bought some great BD. Snagged a couple of books for several of my students, though I won’t mention the names of the books so they’ll be a surprise. Fred surprised me with a large Claire Wendling book as a gift! The quality of this book is beautiful, and the work, of course, wonderful.

Now back at the hotel for a nap before the opening. Tomorrow we leave, I think, for Paris where I’ll be doing another signing. we may try to hit a Monet show that’s going on now, if we can get tickets. Either way we’ll hit the d’Orsay, my favorite museum in Paris.

Oh, found that one of my paintings got damaged in the shipping over from the States. My painting of the old man in bed was accidentally stapled all the way through the canvas and the panel. Ugh. But it was in the upper left corner of the panel, so it could have been worse.

More later…

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