This painting might look familiar. It was Dime Novel 1903. The funny thing is, I often paint something because it is a longer form of thinking about the thing. There is something there that I need to get to the heart of, so I need to chase that thought down through the act of painting it. Sometimes the thought keeps circling after the painting is ‘finished,’ and I need to revisit it. That is the case with both of the Dime Novel Paintings. I will talk a little about Dime Novel 1907 next week.
So what was it about 1903 that brought me back? I was fascinated then as now by the conflicting image of the notorious criminal and civil war era terrorist as a fictionalized American Robin Hood character. In this particular cover I was drawn to the relationship between this vulnerable looking girl who seems to be both serving as a human shield and being shielded by the James character.
I knew James was married to his first cousin, a pastors daughter, Zerelda Mimms James. He was already active in his violent career when they wed. It seems like one of those relationships where outsiders ask, ‘what did she see in him?’
It is an interesting question to think about the intimate companions of some of our most infamous characters. How much do they see or know of their spouses actions. Do they know their spouses true nature, be it killer or lover? Are they ignorant, in denial, or complicit in some way?
These questions led me to add the locket portrait of Zerelda, balanced against the markings in the margin representing the violent side of James legacy.