THE AUTHOR: B.A Shapiro, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
What a wild ride! This books twists and turns and surprises you around every corner. It definitely rates 4.5 tiaras out of 5. It is a firm, two-day relaxed read. You’ll need time to take it all in and you’ll want to get all the little nuances.
Claire, the main character, is intriguing and very talented, but ultimately normal. She experiences the struggles and expectations of a young art student starting out on a career. She is perceptive and allows herself to see what others may not want to or expect to see. She is vulnerable and naïve in many areas of her life, but she’s a brilliant art forger.
I don’t know what you might think of the term forger, but to me it would at least mean that she does something wrong. The dictionary says art forgery refers to creating and, in particular, selling works of art that are falsely attributed to be work of another, usually more famous, artist. Art forgery is extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler. Art forgery dates back more than 2,000 years. Roman sculptors produced copies of Greek sculptures. Presumably, the contemporary buyers knew that they were not genuine. But Claire makes copies of copies, and does not try to sell them as originals. She is totally legit in her work, and ironically ends up in a string of problems as a result of her honesty.
This book would make a marvelous movie. I would love to see the process that Claire goes through to paint and to replicate the Degas paintings which are her specialty.
I did a little research myself and found a website called ArtsHeaven.com where you can purchase copies of oil paintings of many, many artists. I think this shows that Claire was simply performing a vital task replicating amazing work. I don’t think just any artist could accomplish this endeavor either. Only a very talented person could pull off such an attempt so successfully that it could be authenticated as the real deal.
You will read in the epilogue that this book is fiction. Because of that I believe that B.A. Shapiro did a remarkable job of “painting” a delectable story for all of us to read. I could see and smell the paint and the turpentine as Claire painted, and I could feel her fatigue as she strived so hard to get everything just perfect.
I personally cannot draw a straight line, and all of my drawings look as though a child drew them, so I deeply envy the ability of someone who can completely design using perfect colors a picture that tells a story. This author’s visual description is amazing, and I will be forever grateful to her for giving us words that allowed me to “see” the paintings through both her eyes and her language.
I can only imagine Steve Penley’s world of visualization, or that of Dr. Wes and Joy Griffin’s daughter, Hannah, who is an art student at West Georgia. My youngest daughter Ellen graduated from college last year, and Hannah painted a gigantic, drop-dead gorgeous painting of a spider lily for Ellen’s reception. Hannah’s abilities remind me of the feeling that I had when I was reading “The Art Forger.” Claire, the young graduate student, must have had many of Hannah’s abilities to see beyond the blank canvas to where the real beauty lies.
My husband Kevin and I are not art connoisseurs, but the one thing that stands out in our home is the art. It isn’t the expensive kind, as much as we wish it were, but we love Edward Hopper, and our house is filled with beautifully framed Hopper prints and books about him and his work. I think that we must thrive on the visual, as we notice that people are drawn to our wall displays when they are in our home.
We have tried to visit the art museums in major cities, when we’ve have the opportunity, ever since I found a print of “Night Hawks” by Edward Hopper in Chicago, and gave it to Kevin for his birthday. Years ago, Kevin and I were watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” whose main characters, while ditching high school, visit the Art Institute of Chicago and view that painting. Kevin yelled out in the now-defunct local movie house that the painting was his “favorite,” having seen pictures of it from time to time, although he couldn’t remember its name or the artist.
I called The Art Institute of Chicago and described it to them, and they gladly taught me about “Night Hawks” (a picture of three people in a café at night, viewed through a large glass picture window from outside) and Edward Hopper. I ordered the $10 print, had it put in a $100 mat and frame, and the rest of our Hopper “collection” quickly followed.
In “The Art Forger,” Claire works for a reproduction company that openly copies great art classics. I have actually seen online that these companies do exist, and that may be our next step in upgrading our Hopper collection one day. We certainly do not have and never will have the resources to buy an actual Edward Hopper (even if we do win the lottery), but it would be nice to have “real” oil paintings instead of framed prints or posters.
“The Art Forger” gives you a view into the art world that you may not have seen before, and is mysterious and intriguing enough to keep you reading voraciously. It is well worth your time and would make a wonderful weekend read. It is definitely a hard book to put down.
At the very end of the book there is “a note on the research” that says that the painting techniques that Claire uses for both her forgeries and her original works are consistent with current practices, as are the descriptions of the struggles of a young artist.
And just as Carrollton has a “Writers Club” through the recreation department, Penny Lewis can also tell you all about the Art Club. You might consider joining one or both at the beginning of this new year, and learning more about whichever discipline meets your fancy. But in any case I hope you will consider reading “The Art Forger” by B. A. Shapiro. It is delightful!
Buice, a Carrollton resident, writes a weekly book review for the Times-Georgian. anitabook.com.