I've always loved Leonetto Cappiello's work. I love the work from that whole period from the late eighteen-hundreds to the nineteen twenties. When I saw the Absinthe cover, I knew this was going on my list.
El Morro, inside the prison, is a crude, four-hundred-year-old drawing of a ship etched into the wall surrounded by Spanish curses and tally marks. All of Old San Juan is like a painting, and it is littered with artists, paintings, sculptures, and life.
It was in Puerto Rico that I first started to paint. I still have old charcoal-pencil drawings from the roof of our house in Bayamon, where I could see all the way to the Catholic Church outside our neighborhood, and past it to the government housing. I used to wind around around the maze of shops and bars in Old San Juan all day, and wander into the galleries, African art stores, or browse through paintings in books in used bookstores. It was old, musky magic.
When I was sixteen and my family moved to Florida, things became difficult. I had a hard time being back in the States. I don’t know for sure what happened. Maybe it was my short, angry band teacher who was a little too close (criminally close) to one of the most beautiful sophomore girls in my band class, while I had trouble getting a girlfriend at all. Maybe it was the English class where I worked so hard all week to write a poem and got a C, while the the kid in front of me got an A for a comparing his bass guitar to his girlfriend. Whatever it was, I hated school. I began skipping all my classes and going to the one place I knew no one would pay any attention to me: the library. I rotated tables every hour so that no one would would notice the kid with the stack of books who was becoming a constant fixture. I devoured all the art books. I learned about Degas, Dali, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, and of course, Leonetto Cappiello. I was looking for that feel I used to have trudging through the history, and art, through the Spanish-built Old San Juan.
I couldn’t find it.
What I did find had a similar spirit though. It was in the furthest reaches of the high school library (when I was supposed to be in English, or Math, or Science, or Band class) that I discovered the beauty and life of well-placed lines.
This cover is full of well placed lines.
The swishing movement in the dress, that red on red, and that smile remind me of what I loved in those lonely, library hours. When I asked Dwayne D. Hayes from Absinthe about why this cover was chosen, he said, "The cover art for Absinthe #8 was selected because it clearly captured the spirit of the magazine with its joyful celebration of life (and, yes, a good drink with friends) and, of course, it evokes the writers and artists in Europe who enjoyed absinthe in the late 19th and early 20th century."
I've never been to Europe, but it did remind me of my own joyful celebration of life, and the friends—all that art, and history!—I left behind in Puerto Rico.