Artist interview with the author, artist, and professor Brian Finney.
Introducing Brian Finney
Brian Finney showcases his creativity through multiple disciplines and mediums including writing, visual art, and academic education and research at California State University.
Welcome, Brian. Thank you for taking the time to complete this interview. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a life-long writer. As I have worked in the academic field most of my life starting at London University, I began writing nonfiction. After reviewing new books by Samuel Beckett and other writers of the time for the Irish Press, my first book was a pioneering study of Samuel Beckett’s short fiction that relied on answers he sent me and led to a meeting with him in Paris. My next book was an autobiography of Christopher Isherwood (whose Berlin novels formed the basis for Cabaret). I won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for that book. The research for that took me to Southern California, where I was to live for the second portion of my life.
In London, I taught English courses for the University of London, and organized university courses in all the arts, including art history tours of Europe. When I immigrated to the US, I taught at a number of universities in the Los Angeles area, ending up as a tenured professor of English at California State University Long Beach. Other books on contemporary British novelists followed. In 2011, I went completely outside my expertise to write a book about the effect of the war on terror on American culture and society. Once I retired from full-time teaching, I wrote my latest book, Money Matters, my first work of fiction.
Is there a connection between your visual art and your writing? Do the two influence each other?
My grandfather and my father were professional artists, which made me choose literature rather than the visual arts as a profession. Much later, after my father had died I began attending drawing and painting classes near my home in Venice, California, at Santa Monica College. I discovered that drawing, in particular, ran in my veins. So I started attending a workshop run by Chris Hero, a local painter I admire, that allowed me to develop my drawing in directions I was drawn to. Now that you ask me what the connection is I am struck by the fact that most of my figure drawings are of women, just as the narrator and protagonist of my latest novel, Money Matters, is a twenty-seven-year-old woman. As for influence, I often speculate on the life and history of the models I draw, which inevitably gets my literary imagination working overtime. Similarly, when I was writing the novel, my life-drawing made me more aware of what my characters looked like and how they moved.
What was your main source of inspiration for your novel, Money Matters?
Money Matters is set over six days surrounding the mid-term election in 2010. In that election, the nation swung right while California elected Democrats for Governor and Senator. That polarization extended well beyond politics to social and cultural beliefs. I wanted to individualize this divide and found I could do that through my narrator, Jenny, who is liberal and unsure of herself, and her sister Tricia, who is a successful and well-off realtor for whom money is all-important. The two constantly fight, giving concrete expression to the conflicting ideologies tearing the country apart.
The most significant issue fought over between the two contestants for governor in the mid-term concerned immigration. As in my novel the Republican candidate wanted to penalize anyone employing undocumented immigrants and was exposed for employing one in private life. That took my novel into the realms of political corruption and the role of Mexican cartels in the smuggling of Immigrants into the country. Jenny, my protagonist, finds herself threatened by these powerful, dangerous forces that represent the true controllers of our lives.
How did the process of writing a book differ from the process of finishing a piece of life drawing?
The book is an extended narrative work of art. All narratives involve rearranging their elements to create a satisfying shape or form. In the case of a figure drawing, the form is equally important for the frozen moment of narration. In both cases, I am struggling to reconcile the demands of realism with the demands of form. But of course, a book-length form is a lot more complex than that of a single figure. A book has many figures or characters and many poses, so to speak.
In the case of Money Matters the characters can be divided into those struggling to make ends meet (Jenny, a Mexican American housekeeper, an undocumented immigrant, among others) and the rich and powerful one percent (the CEO of a financial company, the head of a large detective agency, the CFO of the Baja Cartel). Jenny finds herself trying to solve a woman’s disappearance with no training in detection. Although this puts her in extreme danger from the one percent, it also leads to her meeting with the director of an immigrants’ rights organization to whom she becomes strongly attracted.
Ultimately the object is the same in both writing and drawing – to mold life into an aesthetically satisfying art object.
How did you maintain inspiration through the long process of writing your novel?
I must have taken about a year and a half to write the first draft of the novel and another year refining it. So it is a long-term undertaking. But once I found the right voice for my narrator, I had no difficulty picking up the strand of narrative from where I left it. The narrator’s voice re-woke the inspiration.
What are some bits of advice you’d give novelists and visual artists alike?
Good artists and writers spend a lot of time creating their art and looking at/reading that of other good artists. Also, apart from practicing your art as often as you can, always be prepared to revise or re-do it. There is no such thing as a work of art that cannot be further improved. So always treat suggestions, even criticisms, as potential sources for a better final work of art.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to clarify that I have been writing all my life and consider myself a professional writer, while I have taken to life-drawing later in life and will never acquire an equal standing as a visual artist. But I equally love both forms of art. Currently, I am focused on the forthcoming publication of Money Matters on August 23rd, on Amazon. I’m very excited about that.
Thank you for reading! I encourage you to check out Brian Finney’s work!
Interested in an interview of your own? Please go to my about page and email me!