A Stunning Illustrated Elegy of Life, Loss, Our Search for Light, and Loneliness as a Crucible of Creativity – The Marginalian

Childhood is a wonderful brushstroke of loneliness, thick and light-colored, the edges of which fade into the whole landscape of life.

In this blur of being alone, we learn that is being ourselves. One measure of maturity may be the extent to which we are able to grow to transform that initial loneliness into the “fruitful monotony” that Bertrand Russell put at the heart of our prosperity, the “fertile solitude” that Adam Phillips defined as the pulse of our creative power.

If we are lucky enough, or perhaps alone enough, we learn how to get from this primal loneliness to another loneliness—Neruda’s hand across the fence, “Kafka’s hand outstretched in the dark”—in that great gesture of communication that we call art.

Rilke, contemplating the only patience of creative work that every artist knows in his mind, captured this in his lament that “works of art are an infinite unity”—Rilke, who throughout his life celebrated solitude as the underground waters of love and creativity, and who so firmly believed that in order to Devoting yourself to art, you must not “let your loneliness obscure the presence of something within it that wants to appear.”

Giuliano Coco (1929-2006) was still a boy living with his parents amid the majestic isolation of the Italian countryside, when the common loneliness of childhood squeezed his uncommon talent and an artistic impulse began to emerge, tender and tectonic.

Over the ensuing decades, it has grown volcanic in painting and poetry, in photographs and in pastels, with art glowing with life’s sparkling love.

When Coco moved to Rome as a young artist, he met a young American nature writer John Miller. A beautiful friendship came chord. It was the early 1960’s, when award-winning nature writing poet Rachel Carson had just awakened the modern environmental conscience and was using her hard-earned stature to issue a radical insistence that children’s sense of wonder is key to conservation.

In this cultural atmosphere, Cucco and Miller have joined their gifts to create a series of amazing and vibrant children’s books inspired by nature.

John Miller (left) and Giuliano Coco in the 1960s

But when Miller returned to New York, he slammed door after door in his face—commercial publishers were unwilling to invest in reproducing Cucco’s vibrant art at such an exorbitant cost. It took half a century of anti-cultural bravery and Moore’s Law for the Brooklyn-based Enchanted Lion to risk and revive these forgotten ancient treasures.

Eager to reconnect with his old friend and share the bountiful news, Miller sought to track down the Coco family. But when he finally reached them after a long search, he was stunned to learn that the artist and his wife had been killed by a motorbike speeding through a pedestrian crossing in Rome.

Giuliano Coco, Self-Portrait

Their son was just beginning to make his way through his father’s collection of paintings – many the world had never seen, many depicting the landscapes and landscapes of childhood dreams that shaped his art.

As sadness is often our gateway to beauty and vitality, Miller set out to honor his friend by reliving his story in an uncommonly original and subtle way—time travel on the wings of memory and imagination, to fertility and loneliness. Childhood in which the artist’s gift was falsified, projecting himself into the heart and mind of the boy through the surviving paintings of the adult man, blurring reality and imagination.

before i grow up (a public library) Born – part lamentation and part rejoicing, venerating the liveliness of life: a life of sensation and imagination, a life of landscape and light, a life of nature and a drive for beauty that radiates what is real and most beautiful about human nature.

In the lyrical first-person narrative spoken by the half-realist, half-imagined boy who became an artist, Miller evokes the spirit of Giuliano’s childhood. From him emanates the universal spirit of childhood – that infinite blessing of imagination, which prompted Baudelaire to declare that “genius is nothing more and nothing less than a childhood that is restored as it pleases.”

In my room I had my workbench I made paper boats and let them float away like dreams.

We feel the boy’s imaginative loneliness deepened when we meet his father, brilliant and distant–“a scientist who has studied the source of light–not sunlight, but another kind of light he said inaccessible,” who spoke little and “preferred to ride his bicycle to the ocean and paddle among the waves in A graceful rowing boat, in search of light.”

The mother never appears in the paintings or in the story. But her garden is a refuge where the boy goes to see the tulips. “There, I was never alone,” he says with this way of self-convincing reality.

There, he dreams of flying away like a bird, soaring in the sky above the flowers, basking in the light and life of nature, there in the far country.

But then his parents decided to send him to the city, so that he would learn the life of culture. Staying with his aunt and uncle, watching adults preoccupied with the alluring distractions of adulthood, he once again travels to the amazing worlds of his imagination.

In a storm of happiness, the boy returns to the countryside to meander between the distant neighboring houses, to climb the towers on the roofs, to fly his kite in the light.

One day, when the boy was twelve years old, his father was wandering the ocean in search of his invisible light and back with such a calm water story that he stood in his little boat and played the violin.

From this still scene depicted in one of Cucco’s true paintings, from the well-known facts of his friend’s life, in the voice of a boy about to be illuminated by his creative calling, Miller’s soaring imagination evokes a larger poetic truth about what it means. To be an artist, about the meaning of love and the measure of sufficiency, and about the fine threads of trust that weave the lifeblood of the creative spirit.

This is a picture I drew of what he told me.
Next, I asked him if I had painted the light he was looking for.

My dad wasn’t much of a talker, but this time he said these three words: “Yes, I did.”

That was enough.

From then on, I knew I would grow up to be an artist.

compliment before i grow up – to the lyrical magnificence and tactile vibrancy that no summarization or screen do justice to – with the pictorial life of Coretta Kent, another little-known artist of uncommon vision and kindness of heart. For a scientific counterpart, savor the illustrated life of Edwin Hubble, who revolutionized our understanding of the universe with his search for a different kind of light.

Illustrations provided by The Enchanted Lion Books. Maria Popova’s photo.

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