I had read and enjoyed B.A. Shapiro’s book The Art Forger back in 2013 (thank goodness for Goodreads lists!). I was excited when BJ gave me The Muralist to me this past Christmas.
The book intertwines two narratives: present day Danielle, a junior art appraiser at Christie’s and Dani’s great-aunt Alizée, an artist in the 1940s.
Alizée is friends and colleagues with the abstract expressionist artists Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning. This is the part that hooked me early on. Along with reading, I love art. And the one period I am intrigued with is this period. During my travels I seen some Rothko’s and some Pollock’s and didn’t really ‘get it’. Rothko painted blocks of the same colour on a canvas, and Pollock dripped paint. But I have to admit they are compelling to look at. This book is about way more than just the art, and that is the part that drew me in.
What I had no idea about was that (most) this group (and others) worked for the Works Progress Administration for the Federal Art Project during the depression – a group that painted art for public buildings.
Part of the narrative is that Alizée has an encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt. Alizée wants to get more abstract art included in the mix of the WPA project. Mrs. Roosevelt is like me, in that she is like, I don’t get it. Through this relationship we start to understand what the abstract art was trying to say. It’s about what the paintings make you feel. I get that.
The book is about way more than that – Alizée is trying to get visas for her family (who is Jewish) to get out of Europe. And the book asks a lot of questions about how art can affect change, and how artists cope with that and the burden of being creative.
I think the downside of this book was that there was a lot going on – and sometimes it felt a bit much. However, I really enjoyed it. It was a story well told. I got invested in the characters. And I learned stuff! I rated it 4/5 stars on Goodreads – I enjoyed it, am happy I read it and would recommend to friends.