James Spencer Russell and James Joyce

Taken from, Style, Elegance and Wit:  Rediscovering the Life and Art of James Spencer Russell, written by Ron Kern and edited by Karen Bruner Stroup, PhD:

Jim’s affinity for James Joyce began early in life. While in military school in New Mexico, Paul Horgan first introduced Jim to Joyce’s work. In Jim’s notes he specifically mentions reading Ulysses at his Uncle Fred’s during the summer after his high school graduation.

But it was his interest in Joyce’s most infamous and final work, Finnegans Wake, that captured Jim’s imagination. Written over a period of seventeen years it is known as one of the most difficult works of fiction ever written.

In an undated letter to his Mother, Jim mentions reading Finnegans Wake:

“I am reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. It is very difficult and I have never been able to make any headway in it, but this time I made up my mind to finish it. It is sure slow going.”

Based upon Jim’s notes, he read Finnegans Wake sometime between 1948 and 1958. In a press release for a 1965 exhibition at the Ruth White Gallery in new York City, Jim wrote this about Finnegans Wake as inspiration:

“In 1960 I first starting using motifs from James Joyce’s FINNEGANS WAKE — particularly the ‘100-letter word.’ The present constructions make use of some of the characters or their correspondences: HCE, Anna Livia Plurabelle, the two girls, the three soldiers, the seven rainbow girls, etc. As before, I am not trying to illustrate or interpret, but to use them as a starting point for my own ideas on a variety of subjects that interest me.”

Whether it was the novel’s setting of an alternate universe, the code in which it was written or the relationships of the work’s characters that appealed to Jim we will never fully know or understand. But we are able to view his work that was inspired by Finnegans Wake and draw our own conclusions.

100 Letter Word From the collection of Julie "Satch" Kern

100 Letter Word, 1964, 22 1/2″ x 20 1/2″
From the collection of Julie “Satch” Kern

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