Book Review: We'll See Who Seduces Whom: a graphic ekphrastic in verse by Tom Bradley and David Aronson
In this book the ekphrasis is Tom Bradley's poetic response to David Aronson's visual art. As stated on the cover, David Aronson supplies the "visuals" and Bradley the "verbals." With each one a master of his art and craft, at the height of his creative powers, they could be the rock-solid rhythm section anchoring a band. One on drums, the other on bass. It's like watching a red hot guitar player "cuttin' heads" in a contest with the Devil. Only, which one is the Devil?
Bradley's verse is presented in 8 cantos, or sections, supplemented with an appendix and intertwined with Aronson's brilliant and seductive, but deeply disturbing illustrations. Both the text and visual art are multi-layered, heavily symbolic, metaphorical and allegorical. On more than one occasion I was sent scurrying for a dictionary and diving into research on classical, esoteric, and occult references and symbols. Let's be honest. I don't really even know what the Hell these guys are trying to say half the time. But what does that really matter in the end? I'm a slow study but I always seem to get there eventually. I never knew where John Coltrane was going with his stratospheric solos either, but he always led me back to the melody. This book requires a very attentive read, and covers ground you'll need to tread upon more than once to really connect with it. Reading this book is like a van just pulled up beside you as you're walking down the sidewalk minding your own business. The window slides down, there's a unicorn at the wheel who says: "No time to explain. Just get in!" You get in the van, and before you know it, you're careening through the streets of Never-Never Land with no idea where you're going, or where you'll end up. But hang on to your hat because it's one hellava ride.
We'll See Who Seduces Whom actually gives me the creeps on many levels and is evocative of Wes Craven's 1991 horror classic "People Under The Stairs." This book could be described as shocking, yet seductive; irreverent, even blasphemous. Some might call it erotic, some would even say it's pornographic. All of this may be true. In any case, it's a skillfully crafted, dark and disturbing fascination with abomination from which I could not look away.
Aronson is a brilliant technician and a multi-faceted visionary whose visual art is a mash-up of classical fine art, illustration and lowbrow proto-punk, underground comics art. His lineage can be traced from Robert Crumb to Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Levine and Salvador Dali all the way back to Albrecht Durer and Hieronymus Bosch. Aronson's other interests and qualifications are widely varied and his resume includes experience as a teacher, certified hypnotherapist, holistic healer, professional astrologer, and published poet. His art explores some of the darker regions of mythology, psychology and the subconscious. His website features this salient and revelatory quote from Carl Jung, which sheds some light on his philosophy and approach to making art: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and therefore, not popular."
Bradley's writing is heavily steeped in classical roots, with metaphysical and occult underpinnings but owes as much to Charles Bukowski, James Tate, Charles Simic, and the Beat writers, as it does to Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Dante Alighieri. Bradley demonstrates a stunning, virtuosic command of the English language and draws from an encyclopedic knowledge of history, religion, metaphysics and the occult. His free-wheeling prose passages combine with Aronson's impeccably rendered images to create a fever-dream phantasmagoria that is every bit as startling and hallucinatory as William Burroughs's Naked Lunch. However, it should be noted that the book is also laced with off beat humor and a quirky sense of playfulness throughout. Denis Dutton, Arts & Letters Daily wrote: "Tom Bradley is one of the most exasperating, offensive, pleasurable, and brilliant writers I know. I recommend his work to anyone with spiritual fortitude and a taste for something so strange that it might well be genius." I love that quote because it captures some of my own emotional and intellectual responses to this work. Bradley's writing is meteoric, acrobatic, and often vexing and there are times when I'm not quite sure if he's winking and putting us all on. But, for me, that's part of the attraction.
It's also important to acknowledge the work of publisher Jonathan Penton in bringing these two artists together to produce a unique and very high quality contribution to contemporary book art. The end result is a rich and vibrant, genre-busting collaboration and transgressive art form that challenges preconceived notions about Art and Literature. While not a light and breezy read, and certainly not for the impatient, prudish, or faint of heart; if you're willing to exert the effort and surrender to the flow, you'll fire up enough synapses to stave off Alzheimer's and find it's well worth the investigation and experience.
"A drowning tide of ebullient doom."
"A complex and multi-layered dance between these two offbeat geniuses, We'll See Who Seduces Whom takes off in a high octane rampage, thunders across the defiled plains of Kansas, corners around the pope, takes multiple shots at our flabulous and star-struck culture, and brings you back home in time for a three-martini lunch, looking brain-raped and fuddled, woefully holding the book up and shaking it to see if anything more is to be had, secreted within its unholy pages.
"Tom Bradley's unprepuced poetry entering David Aronson's debauched images make We'll See Who Seduces Whom a demented and unholy intercourse. For the lover of extreme ekphrastics, this is the Inferno you have been waiting for. Canto after canto churns with the wordplay of the damned, with sin and sacrilege and trespass. Join these seductive souls in their satanic search for meaning when all is lost and for God when you are in hell."
"A lush garden of terror teeming with vividly nightmarish imagery. Tears through sexual stereotypes with a meat hook. Hypnotic, striking writing and artwork."