Joy McCullough comes to the blog today with her debut offering: a verse novel to start the tale of Artemisia Gentileschi as her mother’s stories, her artistic talents and the courage to stand for herself and the truth all converge in
Blood Water Paint
A verse novel, where multiple pieces of verse are mixed throughout the tale bring the emotions forward, as Artemisia’s pain, anger and determination step forward to take readers into the tumult she is experiencing in a life full of subjugation, loss, abuse and memory of her mother’s stories lead us through the tale. Losing her mother when she was 12, Artemisia had two choices – enter the convent or continue the life she had been leading: mixing pigment and painting, with no hope for recognition of her own talents. She chose to stay. A life of coddling her brothers and serving her father: painting commissions that he would sign his name to, hidden away from the world with only memories of her mother’s stories and love her company.
When her father is jockeying for a new commission that will bring money and recognition, she is introduced to a ‘teacher’, one who recognized her talent, but used flattery and Artemisia’s own recognition of her place (in fact, all women’s place) in society – raping her and then callously disregarding her claims and her art. Unwilling to sit back, she uses the strength gained from her mother’s stories: tales of biblical women who’s strength, courage and daring defied convention of the time and the patriarchy to take a stand and make their stories known. Artemisia shares her story of rape and abuse, and the case: though multiple witnesses for the defense that impugn her character and womanhood, the defense based solely on making the victim the guilty party. When her only recourse in testimony is the rack-like contraption that, using bandage and pressure, pulls her hands apart- the rapist is found guilty because the court finally believes her story.
Holding tightly to two women of her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, the damage to her hands heals slowly, but her spirit, while bruised and bashed about, buoyed by what is now a sisterhood with the two women of her mother’s stories, she starts to paint again: slowly and painfully, because the paint is all that makes her whole. Memorable as much for what is not: the lack of rights for women, the lack of opportunity, the lack of her father’s protection, the lack of the maid’s support, lack of a mother to hold and guide her, even a lack of literacy: STILL Artemisia manages to tell a story of determination and persistence. The need to move forward and share her own view of the world and those she commits to canvas, the need to continue: perhaps not without fear of what may happen, but recognizing that even when the worst has happened – there is more after.
Originally a play, the verse does play into a sense of character for Artemisia: understanding that she could not read, and that her life truly consisted of the attic studio, the house below, and occasional trips to the market in their tiny neighborhood of Rome, the verse speaks to more. It’s verse that expresses great pain and longing, and if occasionally immature in the construct, it feels as if a teenager (even one in the 17th century) could have written it – bringing a solid emotion forward. I’m still undecided if this is a story appropriate for younger teens because of the rawness of content, I do think that it is a story that needed telling: both as a piece that shows survival, but for the way Artemisia’s mother tried to warn her of the dangers of being a woman in a man’s world.
Title: Blood Water Paint
Author: Joy McCullough
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, Historical Fiction, Renaissance Era, Setting: Italy, Young Adult
Published by: Dutton
Published on: 6 March, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
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A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.
Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.
She chose paint.
By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.
He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.
Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.
I will show you
what a woman can do.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: