Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut

            Most people know Kurt Vonnegut as an author.  He became famous for his science fiction, although he often resented being confined to a genre, preferring to use science fiction as a tool to express the irrationality of real-world circumstances.  However, those familiar with his life know that Vonnegut was also an artist. 
            This first became known as simple felt-tip drawings began to appear in Vonnegut’s novels.  Breakfast of Champions utilized these drawings as a plot device.  Often the narrator would introduce things as if the reader had no prior knowledge of society, humans, or Earth in general, explaining concepts ranging from the United States to assholes to storks to guns (complete with drawings).  The art was simple but lent the novel symbolism, clarity, and humor.

            After Breakfast of Champions was released, Vonnegut’s art gained popularity and he began creating drawings that stood alone without literature.  He stuck with simplicity but explored screen-printing.  One of his most famous pieces is his self portrait (shown below), which displays his tendency towards clean, unbroken lines, sparseness, and condensed shapes.
            Even as Vonnegut explored some more complicated images, he carried these themes through.  He also created many facial representations.  The act of making abstractions of faces allowed him to make them expressive and evocative, communicating complexities while remaining relatively simple.  He acknowledged his interest: “The human face is the most interesting of all forms.  So I’ve just made abstracts, of all these faces.  Because that’s how we go through life, reading faces very quickly.”  Two such works, Trout in Cohoes and an untitled sketch, are pictured below.

            Although his drawings are more widespread, Vonnegut also explored sculpture as a method of creative expression.  His daughter, Nanette Vonnegut, also an artist, recently published a collection of his drawings.  In interviews, she describes him as always engaged in some act of creating, whether it was writing, drawing, or sculpting.  One of her earliest memories of her father was of him chiseling at a sculpture in their kitchen.  Vonnegut’s most famous aluminum sculpture, Waspwaist, is pictured below.  In sculptural space, the piece still reflects his simple lines and abstract impressions of human form.
            Kurt Vonnegut left behind a legacy of literature, but his passion for art was enormous.  His daughter wrote; “Dad thought being a full-time visual artist would have been much more fun than being a writer, even if it meant lopping off a finger or two.”  For more information on Vonnegut’s artistic career, visit