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Alec Clayton Art and Writing
A famous artist vanishes at the height of his career. A childhood friend searches for him and tells the story of his family going back generations. Until the Dawn is a coming of age story, a coming out story, and a story that brings together two worlds: the New York art world of the 1980s and the racial strife of the Deep South in the 1960s.
From an amazon review by Linda Delayen:
The focal point of this amazing first novel is Travis "Red" Warner, the larger-than-life artist who hailed from Tupelo, Mississippi, a town that spawned the other larger-than-life artist, Elvis Presley. Alec Clayton's narrator is Travis' childhood friend Johnny Lewis. He takes us back in time to Mississippi 1919 to introduce us to Travis' grandparents, then his parents and finally tells the story of Travis growing up in Tupelo. Clayton does a masterful job evoking the cadences of speech and the overweening racial and social status bigotry of the place and time. "Red" Warner's nickname could have just as easily come from his burning passion for his art as from his flaming hair color. In 1970s New York art scene, Red became the darling of the critics, and when that fickle adulation ceased, he flamed out big time and disappeared. Johnny Lewis sets out to find him, and what he finds is...well, read it for yourself! There are times when Clayton's prose becomes pure poetry. This is an author with great potential. I look forward to his next!
Painting can be an evil mistress. She can love you tender and she can love you raunchy, and she can rip your guts apart.
When you put that last stroke on your canvas and you know you've done it right, and you step back to look at what you've done, a deep sigh comes all the way up from your loins and you say “Yes! Yes, by God, I did it.”
But it can also be like a cramp in the pit of your stomach that wrenches your intestines and won't let go; because to make a painting you have to reach deep down inside and pull it out, and when it doesn't come it's like the dry heaves. And the loneliness of it! The loneliness is unbearable. You're all alone in a huge loft and you're slinging paint with concentration so intense it's exhausting, and when you finally set your paint bucket down and step back to see what you've done there is not a soul to share that moment with, be it ecstasy or be it loathing; because you've experienced a rape or a battle or the most tender of caresses, and it was all between you and that goddamn canvas; and suddenly you get this memory flash from back when you were in art school and your professors ripped your work apart, and you look at your painting and you can't even see it. You haven't the slightest idea whether it's art or crap. So you grab the freight elevator down to the street and you walk to the corner bar and get gloriously drunk.
Stunning debut novel by a wise new voice in American fiction
Alec Clayton's skillfully-written and highly-entertaining first novel will make you very anxious to see what he will write next.
"Until the Dawn" alternates between very different places (primarily Tupelo, Mississippi, and New York City) and times (early to late 20th century), piecing together a fascinating and gritty story of the art world. As an artist, a Southerner, and a former New Yorker, Clayton knows these worlds well. But what makes this book special is the...well...FEROCITY with which it is written. It is incredibly evocative, at times shocking and at times charming and beautiful - and it all rings true.
Clayton attacks our society's foolish and tragic ills (including racism and homophobia) head-on in a richly politically-incorrect manner. It is a wonderful debut novel by a wise new voice in American fiction. As a librarian, I can assure all librarians that many a library patron will be delighted if you add this to your shelves.
Truth about subjects many people fear: GREAT READ!
by Bob Appleton
Normally I don't get emotional about books that are strange to me. This read was different. Clayton is an excellent writer and has a way of pulling at your heat-strings. Touching, moving, and a must read in today's society. Robert M. Appleton, Jr. (author of Running Out Of Road)
PAIN, BEAUTY AND WONDERMENT
by Lawrence Johnson, Southern Quarterly
In 1982 a legendary, hardliving artist vanishes from the glitzy, coke-infused New York art scene after a violent and bloody self-confrontation at a party in honor of his new exhibition. This is Travis "Red" Warner, ambivalent genius, who has taken New York by storm after appearing out of the rustic depths of Tupelo, Mississippi. But then that same rural hamlet produced Elvis Presley, so why not? To discover the whys and hows in this tale is the work of Johnny Lewis, childhood friend of Travis, who narrates most of the story through a familial investigation going back to1919 and taking in some of the major events of the twentieth century as reflected by Travis' forebears and himself. Johnny is obsessed with Travis because he has been attracted to him all his life; he is obsessed with Red Warner because of his artistic talent, and he wants to know what turned the earlier incarnation into the later. Calling most of the artists he knows "effete wimps," Red Warner says "They don't know that painting doesn't come from the eye and the hand; it comes from the gut and farther down. They don't know that the seat of art is a hard dick." Johnny Lewis understands this fully, however. He sees Warner as "the last of the agonized geniuses," and, comfortable with his own homosexuality, knows that his old friend has fought a battle all his life to come to terms with the same urges, which would seem to go against the instincts of the Travis Warner we see in his high school days as a football hero and womanizer.
Tracking Red Warner down and discovering his elder kin's histories is a problematic road trip of self-discovery for Johnny Lewis as well. In good time, though, as the narrator examines the Warner family's past, their adoption into their midst of Travis' mother, her various battles with Travis' renegade father, Travis' relationship with his "sister" Cassie, and the southern ferment of the fifties and early sixties, all seems to flow understandably into a union of manifestations that perfects the novel's plot and gives the reader a sense of grace under tension. Blooming bodily desires, racism, and rock and roll take their turns enlivening the plot, yet the writer's primary concern is to focus on the growth of an artistic imagination in such fertile ground.
In other words, Alec Clayton, native of Tupelo, Mississippi, and stunning visual artist in oil and canvas himself, has given us an excellent first novel that holds the mirror up to a Southern past many of us have lived through but is never clichéd. It also shows a New York art scene that Clayton himself witnessed in the early eighties and which his character Red Warner values as a terrible release, allowing him to come to terms with his own sexuality while trying "to build skeins of paint like the layered grit of shopping bag ladies with their many coats, to find an abstract form that spoke of the faded, Army green aura of alcoholics sleeping on the sidewalks, ashen faces and dull, boozy-pink rims around whitened eyes." Yes, those words inculcate the genius of Travis "Red" Warner, and the novel Until the Dawn makes that genius achingly clear for us, in all its pain, beauty, and wonderment. Therefore, one should fly to the nearest bookstore or computer screen to order it.
Which brings up the fact that Until the Dawn is an example of that new kind of book, the "electronic book" or "print on demand" work. One might naturally ask what it looks like, how well it's put together, etc. Is it a "real" book? Is its literary quality imaged in the format? The answer to these last two questions is a resounding yes! This is a trade paperback book and it looks as good as any other trade paperback published by any major publishing house. The cover contains a beautiful color photograph, the author's photograph appears on the back, the print is excellent and well defined on good paper and there are very few typographical errors. All that and the fact that this work never has to go out of print and can be ordered online or at any bookstore make for the wave of the future. Doubtless there will be many more works of inferior quality published in the "print on demand" format than books like Until the Dawn, but when was it ever any different with the major houses? Too many wretched novels are published every year while superior works like this one are rejected, and this reviewer therefore champions the "electronic book" as a long-needed remedy for the situation. Congratulations to Xlibris for their vision and congratulations to Alec Clayton for his powerful, gutsy, and honest novel. Is this a "real" book? Hell yes—and then some!
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