Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"A screaming comes across the sky," but what does it look like? Zak Smith drew a picture -- and 759 more.

Last year the American Book Review compiled a list of the 100 best first lines from novels. "A screaming comes across the sky," the opening line of Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel, Gravity's Rainbow, was the first 20th century work on the list and third overall, right after Melville's "Call me Ishmael" and Jane Austen's "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Artist Zak Smith illustrated the famous opening page of the novel -- and all the other pages, for a total of 760 drawings, paintings, photos, and other images. He explains his project on the website The Modern Word, which also has links to each of the 760 individual illustrations.
So I illustrated Gravity's Rainbow-- nobody asked me to, but I did it anyway. Most of the pictures are drawings-- ink on whatever paper was lying around, but there are also paintings (acrylic), photos I took, and experimental photographic processes. I tried to illustrate the passages as literally as possible-- if the book says there was a green Spitfire, I drew a green Spitfire. Mostly, I tried to make a series of pictures as dense, intricate, and rich as the prose in the book. The entire project was shown in the Whitney Museum's 2004 Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Art and is now in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The page also contains links to reviews, as well as an index that links to the individual illustrations. If you'd like to go straight to "A screaming comes across the sky," click here.

The entire project has also been published in book form as Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow, available here at Amazon. Unlike the online version of the project, which has excerpts of text accompanying each illustration, the book has none. You'll have to view it guided only by your memory -- or a copy of Gravity's Rainbow.

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