Seven Writers Inspired by One Artist, Raven Waters

Writing is the painting of the voice.

Voltaire
Self-portrait of the Artist Raven Waters

Collaboration is essential to me, so I asked some of my writer friends to use Raven Waters’ artwork as inspiration to write a piece of flash fiction. Waters typically paints his work in what is called ala prima, where the painting is finished in one setting. To me, this suggests immediacy, an artist who’s interested in capturing a moment in time. As a short story writer, I feel there is power in brevity. Consider Alice Walker or William S. Burroughs’s vignettes, for instance, and how their short pieces capture—very concisely—a piece of time, or a mood.

Novels take years and that can be frustrating for writers who want to feel as if they’re creating something new every day. This is why flash fiction is a wonderful outlet. It can be accomplished in a short period of time, and yet, the prose is powerful. In fact, I find “condensed” pieces sometimes more evocative than longer pieces.

All of these pieces of prose are 200 words or under and the contributing writers have also asked questions of Waters. Be sure to read those responses as well!

If you’re interested in buying a particular piece of art, either an original or in print, his artwork is very accessible and available for shipping. For more about Raven Waters and to view his artwork, visit: Raven Waters – Home (ravensnatureart.com).

Blackfoot River written by Justin Jones

Lifting itself free of the inner darkness that haunted its nights, the sun wrapped its fingers around the violent-hued mountains. Beneath the slopes, Blackfoot River babbled westward, relentlessly seeking those muted colors of nightfall, and between the two, in the netherworld of beginnings and endings, stood the old man. Two flicks, one behind and one before, and he cast his line into the rushing waters, the dry fly alighting on the surface of an eddy to await notice. Amorphous time led the trout to the bait. No need to be coy. The trout, glistening with all the colors of eternity, struck the bait, but when it did, the old man was the one who was caught, trapped between the fulfillment of what is and the siren joy of what was.

JJ: Do you make color choices with symbolic meaning, and if so, how do you ascribe meaning to the colors?

RW: I really don’t choose colors, I may have a theme of colors, and then go from there. It is really more about values than colors. All colors are everywhere if you look hard enough.

Justin Jones teaches high school English and Creative Writing in Canton, GA, a northern suburb of Atlanta. He also mentors young writers in their exploration of writing as a career. His first novel, Forlorn Hope, was released in 1994. Until recently, he has spent his spare time raising children, grading essays, and taming ill-behaved felines. He has a BA in English from Oglethorpe University, an MS in Educational Curriculum from Walden University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Etowah Valley Writer’s Institute of Reinhardt University. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Blue Mountain Review, Family Life Magazines, and Sanctuary.

A Place Where Nothing Happens written by Robert Gwaltney

The school bell rings, crackling and shattering his bones. Allégro, the boy must travel, one end of the hall to the other. An odyssey of terrazzo tile to be hurried, a gauntlet of bruise and scrape. In his arms he imagines a baby doll.

Abigail, he whispers—an incantation, a protection spell.

The boy conjures sateen ribbon, the smooth crisscross about his ankles, the hug of Sister’s ballet slippers. Abigail and the boy: a pas de deux. Above their stares, he leaps. Rising above them on tippy-toe. Spinning to the room in his mind. To a place where nothing happens.

Robert Gwaltney, an author of southern fiction resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is an active member of the local literary community and serves as Fiction Editor for The Blue Mountain Review. His debut novel, The Cicada Tree, will be released by Moonshine Cove Publishing in February of 2022. To learn more about Robert, visit his website: robertlgwaltney.com.

RG: Will you comment on your techniques for capturing motion in your paintings and do you see any similar techniques to other artforms.

RW: There wasn’t a conscious attempt to create motion in this piece. When I try to consciously create motion, I do it by blurring the receding edge, or by placing small blotches of a similar color next to the receding edge. I have seen this sort of blurring in photography and in other artists’ paintings also.

Loup Rouge written by Maria Klouda

Red WolfA heavy, dull, thud shatters the air, louder than the squeal of brakes. The stench of burned rubber lingers in the tread marks tattooed on the curvy North Carolina road. Marking the path where you lay. Feeling your last breath, I gasp for air. I close my eyes and see yours. Golden, glowing in the coming night. Standing, your spirit smiles as if to play, pounce. Slowly you turn towards the burning sun’s last rays taking my broken heart with you. A haunting cry calls warning to only nine that remain. A mortality signal from your GPS collar. Male 2044.

Maria Klouda is a writer based in Ball Ground, GA. Her background and work can be found at: https://www.clippings.me/users/mariaklouda

Learn more about the plight of the endangered Red Wolf at The Wolf Conservation Centerhttps://nywolf.org/learn/red-wolf/
Maria was drawn to Raven’s piece, Loup Rouge, after reading the following release: https://nywolf.org/2021/07/two-wild-red-wolves-found-dead-in-north-carolina-reducing-population-to-9-known-wolves/

MK: Why do you think there’s such buy-in to the “Big Bad Wolf” stereotype? 

RW: In a nut shell fear, fear of something humans cannot control.

Gathering Two written by Alyssa Hamilton

“Behold!” Peter said to the witch. “You have found the shark gathering blood, the death of all prey.”

The witch did not see the red-plume feathering to pale brine. She saw blue and violet cells rolling against one another, forging white caps. “No. This is birth.”

And then there was no foam—from the blood and teeth below, white beaks emerged. Wings rose from the waves and took flight, the forked tails flicking against the breeze, bodies smoothed like clay pulled between the wind’s fingers. The kites flew up and did not return.

AH: How important is selecting a perspective in your work? How does it change the final piece?

RW: I’m not sure what exactly what you mean by selecting a perspective and how it changes the final piece. I am not a photorealistic painter, nor am I a completely abstract painter. The perspective in this piece was accomplished by placing objects behind one another and varying the size of the Swallow Tailed Kites. Generally speaking, I try to create the illusion of distance through size, placement, and color.

Alyssa Hamilton is a writer from New England. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Reinhardt University. Her work has appeared in Stonecoast Review , Springer Mountain Press’ Summer Slasher Horror Anthology, and Page and Spine, among others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking and reorganizing her library.

Ode to No Woman, No Cry written by Dawn Major

If I want to wear nothing but the silk robe you bought me last year today and red panties to the café, I will. I’ll smoke, drink, spread my legs wide—I spread them once before for you. Nine months later, I’m mother-fucking-mother-earth.

No, I don’t want brunch, flowers, cards, perfume.

I want to sleep until my body tells me to rise, roll out of bed, hunt down my Gaulouise, stroll to the café where a hipster waiter pretends, like me, to be in Paris. Order Dom.

“What are we celebrating today?” He asks.

“Mother’s Day.”

DM: Your pieces often feature images of other artists—dancers, musicians, writers, aerial artists—which in my opinion is a pseudo-collaboration because you honor various art forms. What do you think about this specific collaboration?

RW: I would also add to your list farm workers, cooks, and pretty much anyone who is doing something. I like for a piece to have a story, a different story for every viewer. This particular piece is a “stolen photo.” I say stolen, because I tried to ask permission to paint this photo, but I couldn’t get a response from the photographer, Antoine D’Agata. I can’t recall if he took this photo in South America, or if he is from South America. I was on the other side for this piece. That is, I was interpreting what D’Agata pictured. That’s what intrigued me to paint it.

I was very curious by the project as a whole, mostly because of my art history classes. Art historians will tell you at the beginning they don’t really know why an artist did this or that, and then shortly later tell you matter-of-factly why the artist did something. Also, I know that Janisse’s books have been dissected, so I was very curious as to what people would write about my work, even though the writers were not coming at the writing from a dissection or critique point of view. I was and am honored that my work catches people’s attention enough to put writing efforts into it.

Also, I really didn’t know what to expect from the collaboration, but I would love to do this again. It turned out way better than I imagined. I plan to use this project to interact with my Facebook patrons in the near future.

Listen to Bob Marley” No Woman, No Cry” on YouTube.

Dawn Major thoroughly enjoyed curating this collaboration between writers and the artist, Raven Waters. She is a book advocate and lover of southern literature. Her debut novel, The Bystanders, will be released by Springer Mountain Press, October 2021. To learn more about Dawn Major, visit her website at http://www.dawnmajor.com.

Clearcut written by Jennie Mayes

Okay, I can do this. Focus.

Hold ropes, lower body until shoulders rest on bar. Done. I’m digging the air with my toes, repelling, digging – building momentum.

Words of that therapist merge with those of Yolanda, trapeze instructor extraordinaire. Let everything fall away until I’m nothing but momentum – forward – arch back – backward – arch front – forward – higher. Fighting gravity…surrendering; pushing…letting go.

Forget everything else. Forget. Wipe it all out, every memory cut down, relentless slashing of the past. With each stroke of the body through air another memory is scythed down.

Nothing left except the escape of the backyard swing set. Hours on the swing, pretending, forgetting, pretending, forgetting. Faster. Higher. I’ll get there this time, to that clearcut space where new memories can grow, new childhood. But no. Clearcut leaves the mind wide open, unprotected, rootless. With one careless spark – conflagration, total annihilation.

JM: Will you please comment on the juxtaposition of the trapeze artist hovering over an area of a clear-cut forest?

RW: This came about from a series on trapeze that I did. Both my wife and I took trapeze lessons in Brattleboro, VT. We even tried flying trapeze for an afternoon. My wife stuck with it longer than I did. In fact, as I sit here on my couch typing this, just a slight rise of my head brings me into view of the trapeze we have hanging in our kitchen.

My wife has written extensively on clearcuts; we both feel their destruction deeply. I was doing a photography project and there was a clearcut just down the road from us. I sometimes create art to make a point, and this was one of those times.

My wife is a frequent model in my work, there was a French painter in the late 1800s to early 1900s–Pierre Bonnard–who painted/drew 400 works of his wife. I am chasing Bonnard (that is the title of one of my works also). I am currently at 155.

Jennie Mayes is a former concert and theater manager who currently lives and works in Cobb County, Georgia. She recently received her MFA in Creative Writing from Reinhardt University. Her short story “The Call of the Swan” won the 2018 Driscoll Award for Excellence in Writing and she most recently was a guest contributor to Middle Grade Mojo, a website for Middle Grade authors.

Andy, Have You Heard About This One? written by Amy McGee

At first, I couldn’t even tell he was speaking English for his weird accent from Wherethefuckistan. “Thank you very much for letting me sit.”

I shrugged. “I came here to watch birds.”

Beneath a bushy unibrow, his bright eyes darted back and forth like a shell game. “I like the robins and the St. Louis cardinals.”

Sheesh. “You got baseball on the brain? It’s a northern cardinal.”

“My favorite.” One red bird hopped right to him. The old man scooped it into his wrinkled palm, where it stayed and winked at me. “You know they bring messages from departed loved ones.”

I stood, ready to nope out of there, but I had to ask. “Do you get many messages?”

“I only send them.” He lifted the bird to his lips and whispered. The bird fluttered away, and the man turned to me, eyes crinkling.

I swallowed. “But you’re not—dead?”

“I’m not?” He lowered his voice, lost the accent. “Noooooooo,” he said, grinning like a kid. “For 30 years, it’s my best joke.”

AM: I lived in Athens, GA for many years and I couldn’t help but notice how many of your pieces are titled after REM song titles. What is the connection between the REM song and your piece?

RW: First, let me say that your piece makes me want to paint the scene you described; the others I may too if I go back and look at them. I’m not really a huge REM fan. I think I have one album, and I like it a lot. Ahh… REM, Losing My Religion. REM and many other bands are on my iPod/laptop that I listen to while painting. I had to look up everyone of these pieces because the title usually has no connection with the painting. I have about three ways to title a painting: 1.) I have a title in mind for a piece (very rare); 2.) I translate the image or a thought about the image into French; 3.) the title is whatever song I happen to be listening to while painting.

I actually do not put much effort into titling a piece. When it gets time to title a piece, I am ready to move on to the next painting. Occasionally, I will search out a lyric, based on a thought I had while painting or riding my bike.

Listen to REM’s “Man on the Moon here” on YouTube.

Amy McGee is a 2018 graduate of the Etowah Valley Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. She lives and writes in the foothills of Appalachia in Waleska, Georgia. She also works as a librarian and professor at Reinhardt where her two children attend school. “Andy, Have You Heard About This One?” is an excerpt from a longer piece inspired by Waters’ work. (During the ‘90s, Amy used to spot the members of REM quite frequently in downtown Athens, GA, but is still waiting for Andy Kaufman to phone home. This is dedicated to Jon, longtime fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. You can phone home too, honey).

A little more about the artist Raven Waters…I started working with wood in 6th grade. I turned a wooden bowl and made a book shelf, which after my mother had the book shelf for decades, I now have. I worked with my stepfather in remodeling and I picked up those skills. I built my first woodshop in the early 1980s; it was 8×8 and I had all my major tools on wheels in order to be able to use them. In the ’90s, I moved and built a 16×20 workshop where I built a lot of Adirondack chairs, furniture, and crafts.

Fast forward to the early 2000s when I met my wife. She lived three hours away, so we wrote a lot of letters. My wife decorated her envelopes with poetry and a little drawing. I cut and pasted things out of magazines, until I ran out of clippings. At that time I went to the library and checked out a book on drawing Florida wildlife and I was painting watercolors for many years. About half way through getting my BFA at Georgia Southern, I switched mostly to oil.

Since graduating I have set goals on the number of paintings to do each year; it helps motivate me. I feel that if one wants to be a a world class artist, like a world class athlete, one needs to practice everyday.

Hope you enjoy this interplay between prose and painting. Thanks to all who contributed!