Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with J.A. Wainwright

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Ten Questions with J.A. Wainwright

J.A. Wainwright’s new book, Blazing Figures: The Life of Robert Markle has been called “An impressive blend of meticulous research with an astute, often poetic reading of imagery, both informed with an insider’s savvy and the whole just touched with the soft glow of friendship.” (Dennis Reid, Chief Curator, Research, Art Gallery of Ontario) He will be launching his book at Ben McNally Books on Thursday ,March 11th. The details of the launch are available on Open Book’s Event page.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Blazing Figures: The Life of Robert Markle.

J.A. Wainwright:

This biography traces the life and career of Robert Markle (1936-1990), the infamous expressionist painter of the female figure who insisted, against more than one accusation of pornography, that his work was first and foremost erotically-charged. Markle was a consummate draftsman whose black and white drawings and colour paintings, as well as lithographs and sculptures, are part of national and international collections as well as numerous private ones. A Mohawk, Markle identified himself for most of his career as an artist for whom being Native was not a primary factor in his creative expression, and it was only in the last seven years of his life that he openly employed Native imagery and symbolism in his work. Born in Hamilton, he attended and was expelled from the Ontario College of Art in the late 1950s, lived in Toronto with his wife Marlene until 1970, and then moved with her to a farmhouse outside of Mount Forest, Ontario. He was a jazz aficiando and played tenor saxophone in the Artists’ Jazz Band that included fellow painters Michael Snow and Gordon Rayner. His intellectual and cultural interests were wide-ranging and formed the basis of his close friendships with such Canadian luminaries as Patrick Watson and Gordon Lightfoot. He was also talented writer of essays and articles for newspapers and magazines from the 1960s through the 1980s. Markle’s personal influence on those who knew him, especially the students he taught at the New School of Art and, later, Art’s Sake Inc. has been lasting and profound.

OBT:

How did you research Blazing Figures?

JAW:

The research for this biography is based on over forty interviews with Markle’s friends and colleagues, family members, and former students, as well as on the copious personal notes he left behind. The book contains detailed consideration of many of his drawings and paintings.

OBT:

Why is Robert Markle an important figure in the history of Canadian Art?

JAW:

His significance is based the combination of his deeply intelligent perception of life, his articulate voice and his outgoing, challenging personality with his unique creative vision that resulted in remarkable works of art. Along with other members of his painter and jazz-immersed group, he helped to define and make memorable a vital era in Canadian cultural expression.

OBT:

Why did he refuse to identify himself as a Native painter?

JAW:

He did so because he viewed himself as an artist, a painter of the female figure. That he happened to be Native did not mean he wanted want his work judged or categorized according to racial definitions of theme and subject matter.

OBT:

What is the greatest challenge a biographer faces when trying to write an honest account of his or her subject's life?

JAW:

Keeping in mind that it is just that — an account. There are many truths in any life but never the truth.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a "Welcome to Canada" gift, what would those books be?

JAW:

It depends on whether I’m trying to welcome people with great literature or very good books that will give them a strong sense of the country, or at least aspects of it. An example of the former would be Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. An example of the latter would be David MacFarlane’s Summer Gone.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JAW:

Being Shelley by Ann Wroe and Point Omega by Don DeLillo.

OBT:

Tell us about your ideal writing environment.

JAW:

Wherever it’s quiet and I’m not distracted.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

JAW:

Write first, then keep writing. Getting published is the result of excellence colliding with chance.

OBT:

What's your next project?

JAW:

A novel.


J.A. Wainwright is a novelist, poet and McCulloch Emeritus Professor in English at Dalhousie University. He is the author of a biography of writer Charles Bruce and editor of A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters from Margaret Laurence to Canadian Writers and of Every Grain of Sand: Canadian Perspectives on Ecology and Environment (WLU Press, 2004). His most recent novel is The Confluence (2007).

For more information on Blazing Figures: The Life of Robert Markle, please visit the Wilfrid Laurier University Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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