Illuminating the WAKE with Clinton Cahill: An Explanation by Rob Berry

In June of 2009, at the North American James Joyce Conference in Buffalo, New York, I had the really great pleasure of meeting this guy, Clinton Cahill, a fellow artist wrestling with the task of bringing Joyce’s work into a visual language. Clinton, like myself and my partner Mike Barsanti, was presenting his work to the Joyceans assembled there that Bloomsday weekend and trying to explain the delicate, whisperfine line between interpreting a text visually and simply illustrating it. Unlike myself however, Clinton has taken up the momentous task of interpreting Finnegans Wake.

Since the mid-nineties he’s been experimenting with different media in ways that explore the relationship between the reading experience and “seeing experience”; playing with the ways in which a passage of Joyce’s text evokes and explodes mental images for the reader and how we, as painters, might capture or respond to that experience. Clinton has created a large body of work in this way ranging from drawings, paintings, prints and handmade books (happily for me, he’s not started playing around with comics… yet).

When Mark Traynor, manager of the James Joyce Centre, and I started talking about bringing more visual material here to the Joyce Centre website Clinton was among the first people to come to mind. Since the work deals largely with the process of understanding Finnegans Wake through visual keys, we’ve asked him to use the forum of this blog to show us his work and discuss it’s relation to the text.

So beginning tomorrow, December 1st, we’ll have a new recurring feature to help readers find a new way to engage with this, the most daunting of Joyce’s novels. And we’ll have the very great pleasure of being a showplace for what I believe to be some of the most exciting work currently being done in the arena of illuminated text. Definitely a “win, win” for all of us.

-Rob Berry