I worked on illustrating the story ‘Buffalo Gals won’t you come out tonight’ by Ursula K. Le Guin. The story evokes imagery through language moving the reader from real to unreal, employing the slippage of time and concept of inhabitated space and being. It is a short story, and I would aim to adopt the story into an illustrated narrative or graphic novel.
The story is full of magic and evokes strong feelings around motherhood, and the role of mother as protector and teacher, where grandmother is the wisest of all. The animals that feature in the tale are from native american stories. The tale enables the reader to assess what is real, what is known, against what is not real, what is only felt. Once emmersed in the unreal, the real becomes strange. “If the language we use to describe things has no meaning in the context we’re in, our understanding of things dissolves until there is nothing left but the basic elements of the thing, like iron and salt on our tongues.” (Fettig, 2012).
The story is of a girl that falls from the sky, from a plane flown by a man, flying her to her father. They sky is patriarchal. Myra falls from the sky into the world of the old ones. This is a world of female animals. When Myra sees through her left eye, her good eye, she sees animals. When the wound of her damaged right eye is soothed and replaced with a pitch eye, Myra sees people. Pitch eyes are a reference to a Native American origin story, where Coyote’s eyes got stuck in a tree and were replaced with pitch.
Seeing and naming are themes throughout the short story. Sight cannot be trusted to show Myra the real. Names are as slippery, and Myra adopts three names, Myra, Gal and Pup. The various names indicate a fractured identity, “Through an openness to viewpoints and communities outside dominant human cultural experiences, Myra becomes, and accepts the necessity of remaining … a “split and contradictory self”.” (Armbruster, 1996).
Karla Armbruster analysed the the short story in her paper A Poststructuralist Approach to Ecofeminist Criticism. Although twenty years old, the paper lays a foundation for further investigation into blurring boundaries of realities, such as in my interest reinventing the space of video games for illustration. Armbruster suggest the slippage found in the identity of Myra, “holds potential for subverting dominant ideologies because her divisions and contradictions allow her to connect without oversimplifying her identity in ways that reinscribe those ideologies in new forms.” (Armbruster 1996).
In terms of visual research I focussed initially on finding inspiration from Native American artists. I have discovered historical and contemporary paintings and drawings that use flat planes, shapes and block colours, which in many ways complement my own visual language. Artists I have discovered include:
I instantly appreciated the artworks as aesthetically there are many similarities with some of the artists I am inspired by such as Lorena Lohr, Agnes Martin and Anni Albers.
I came across amazing carved dolls called Kachina, which embody spirits. These are ancient and contemporary and are representations of ceremonial dress.
On reflection I am excited by the serendipity of the project, a story about humanity’s loss of contact with nature, which I feel compelled to illustrate, has led me to discover artists that otherwise I would not have researched.
I have concentrated on developing characters and working through techniques and processes to inform an art style and visual language.
During the story of ‘Buffalo Gals won’t you come out tonight’ Myra sees her animal protectors in two different ways. With her human eye she sees them as animals, with her pitch eye she sees the animals as ‘her own people’, a humans. She is often in a state of confusion or falling, moving between the real and unreal. I think a solution to how she sees the animals during these transition stages would be for the characters to become their Kachina Doll versions. Kachina Dolls are small carved and decorated dolls made by Native Americans to represent mythological figures. The animals in the story are based on these mythological figures. Using the dolls as starting point, I have begun to illustrate and develop the animal characters.