Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankfully Flannery O’Connor: Art Begets Art

A good girl like Flannery O’Connor was easy to find.  In Milledgeville, Ga., she attended morning mass daily at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where she was a devout parishioner.  Somewhere else, on somebody’s Victrola or Philco, she heard Sophie Tucker or Bessie Smith sing the blues: “A good man nowadays is hard to find.”  Flannery O’Connor transformed that lyric into the ironic title of what has become a classic of southern literature.  In her story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a Georgia family of five, parents, children, and grandmother, embark upon an automobile vacation to Florida but encounter a gang of escaped convicts, led by “The Misfit,” who concludes of the grandmother, “She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”   Internet images illustrating this story, with bodies on the ground and splotches of bright red, are not hard tofind.

Virginia artist Martha Dillard paints a different response to the stories of Flannery O’Connor.  Her painting based on “A Good Man is Hard to Find” depicts the family seen though the back window of their automobile.  They are tranquil, scrubbed, all dressed up with someplace to go, clueless.  If anything, the Dillard painting is even more chilling than the violent and grotesque story.  
Martha Dillard has launched a new blog FlanneryO’Connor: A Good Painting is Hard to Find The blog will feature her paintings based on the writings of Flannery O’Connor.  She has painted eleven of these and now plans more.  She invites suggestions of your favorite Flannery O’Connor story. 
Flannery O’Conner was an occasional painter herself.  Ms. Dillard’s paintings were displayed alongside those of Flannery O’Connor at a special exhibit in Milledgeville.   Ms. Dillard’s one-person exhibit based on the short stories of Flannery O’Connor has traveled through the South.  I was originally introduced to Ms. Dillard’s work at the Childhood Home of Flannery O’Conner in Savannah.
In addition to her interest in Flannery O’Connor, Ms. Dillard has two artistic passions, “painting abstractly and painting landscapes.”  Abstract art “gives me the freedom to splash, drip, pour, squeegee, scrape, print, spray, explore, discover and play.  Going back and forth from realism to abstraction helps keep me fresh and offers challenges to learn and grow.”  Ms. Dillard’s move to the country in 1998 provided her “the daily opportunity to appreciate the wonder of light, fog on the mountain, the glory of spring from the top of the meadow, a sunset over the tops of distant trees, an old house, a favorite view down the road, and the ever-changing expanse of sky.”
Ms Dillard graduated from Austin College and Virginia Tech.  She also studied at workshops with Wayne Thiebauld, Darby Bannard, and Susan Shatter and at Arrowmont  and Penland Schools of Art and Craft.  Her work is in public and private collections throughout the U.S.
Image of painting copyright by Martha Dillard.  All rights reserved.  Used here by permission.

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