Fans of Kurt Vonnegut will remember cracking up at his minimalist illustrations in his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions, which featured everything from lambs to beavers and from syringes to asterisk-like anuses. (You read that right.)
But many readers don’t know that Vonnegut’s drawing chops went far beyond these goofy felt-pen doodles. In addition to being one of America’s funniest and most influential writers, he was also an accomplished visual artist. A new book, out next month, features 145 of his whimsical drawings, collected by his daughter, Nanette.
In the book’s tender introduction, Nanette writes, of her father’s artistic style, “I see hints of blueprints, tile work, leaded-glass windows, William Blake, Paul Klee, Saul Steinberg, Al Hirschfeld, Edward Gorey, my mother’s WASP waist, cats and dogs. I see my father, at age 4, 40, and 84, doodling his heart out.”
Touches of Miro’s abstract shapes, Picasso’s fragmented faces, and ’60s psychedelia make their way into Vonnegut’s work. The writer found drawing to be an escape from the daily slog of putting words on the page. “My own means of making a living is essentially clerical, and hence tedious and constipating. The making of pictures is to writing what laughing gas is to the Asian influenza,” wrote Vonnegut in his essay collection, Fates Worse Than Death.
Vonnegut was characteristically self-deprecating about his art. When a series of his pen, pencil, and marker work was exhibited in a solo show in Greenwich Village in 1980, and attended by the likes of Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, Vonnegut quipped that it was “not because my pictures were any good but because people had heard of me.” At the show’s opening, he explained his favorite mediums–he found oil paint “such a commitment,” and watercolors “too bland, too weak,” but he loved the “brilliant colors” of Magic Markers.
Kurt Vonnegut Drawings is available for pre-order here and costs $25.