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  • Belle Brett

Art and Writing Meet: "Gina's Floating World" at the Great Bay Gallery (Somers Point,

I’m not sure when I first got the idea that I wanted to create an exhibit of images that related to my novel, Gina in the Floating World. I do know that I made my first collage inspired by my novel after it was accepted for publication and that my cover designer, Julie Metz, used some of the elements (the Japanese city and Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print, “The Great Wave”) in this collage to create my book cover. Around that time, I also produced my first Tokyo at night watercolor that I then sold.

My writing and art have not always been so intertwined. For me, they were separate but complementary pursuits. Producing a novel was a laborious, challenging, though energizing task that required years of work and then a full year following its acceptance by my publisher before it emerged in its final book form in September 2018. My major art focus during this time was photography. Having grown up with an artist mother, possessing some innate talent, and taking art classes over my adult life, I wasn’t a total beginner though I was somewhat of a dilletante as an artist, trying out a number of mediums. It was only after I began to wind down my paid work that I delved deeper into an earlier interest in watercolor painting and rediscovered collage.

In contrast to writing, what I loved about making art was how quickly I could produce something and then be further rewarded by seeing it on my wall. I rely more heavily on my own editorial process rather than detailed critique from others as I do in writing. Soon, I found myself exhibiting and even selling my art. Even at the low prices I was charging initially, I realized I could make more money with my art than with writing. But neither of these activities were ever about financial gain. They were both about self-expression, using different parts of my brain.

Creating an exhibit around the novel gave my art a focus, just as writing a novel gave my writing a focus. It wasn’t hard to come up with ideas for this project as my novel takes place in a variety of settings. Early on, I made a list of ideas. Although I made several watercolor paintings with the Tokyo at night theme, I found collage better suited my goal of tapping into the essence of the novel and emotions I wanted to convey. My collages are narrative—i.e., they tell a story of sorts, but unlike with words on the page, it is the viewer who must construct this story based on what she sees. The collages are sufficiently complex, including one more unsettling content or compositional elements, that different interpretations are possible. In addition to being visually appealing, I hope they are conversation starters.

I’ve shown some of these collages both individually (in three juried shows through the Cambridge Art Association) and as a group, but up until this month. no more than eight at a time. I have found appropriate short excerpts from the novel to accompany some of them. However, I never intended them to be illustrations. They can stand alone without reference to the novel, covering such subjects as the Japanese inn (“Ryokan”), the public baths (“Ofuro”), tea ceremony (“The Art of Chado”), food (“The Daily Catch, Tokyo”), rock gardens (“The Rock Garden”), and cherry blossom time (“Sakura”). In addition to these are several that more closely reference the story itself, such as the hostess bar (“After Work Delights”) and a particularly scary experience of my protagonist (“The Stuff of Nightmares”).

Now, I am thrilled that the whole collection can be viewed in one space through July 27th, 2019, at the Great Bay Gallery in Somers Point, NJ. Although somewhat far from the Boston area, the place I’ve lived most of my adult life, the Jersey Shore is the go-to summer destination for those from Philadelphia, where I grew up. For the last 23 years, I have met up with a friend in Somers Point, and visiting the delightful Great Bay Gallery has always been a part of our annual ritual. I couldn’t be happier at inaugurating the full exhibit there where I can not only enjoy my own artist’s reception (July 19th, 5 pm -7 pm) but also do two book talks/readings about Gina in the Floating World (July 24th, 3 pm and 6 pm, RSVP at 609-653-4991.

The exhibit contains 16 collages, three watercolors, and seven photographs that I took in Japan during the trip in my twenties that served as the initial inspiration for the novel.

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