“On hot, sticky days in southern Louisiana, the fire ants swarm.” Just moments before, Walter Mosley, then 34 years old, had let his fingers glide freely, carelessly over his keyboard, creating those words. “It sounded like a novel, and I had wanted to write one,” he says. So he did.
The words that Mosley typed that afternoon on a whim became his first novel Devil in a Blue Dress. Almost three decades later, he is the critically acclaimed author of more than forty-three novels, including a major bestselling mystery series. Though Mosley is primarily known for his writing, he has been drawing for much longer. It was his drawings that attracted crowds and rave reviews last month with Alien Script, a recent exhibition of eighteen drawings from Mosley’s notebooks at NYU’s Kimmel Center.
“When I started doing it,” says Mosley of drawing, “I didn’t expect success.” Mosley studied computer programming in college and graduate school, working in that field for sixteen years. All the while, he knew he wanted to be an artist. The success of his first novel catapulted him into a prolific writing career; however, his story-telling is not simply limited to words. Alien Script is his first art exhibition, drawing together artwork from his sketchbooks.
The drawings in Alien Script straddle fantasy and reality, with drifting, dancing characters neither quite human nor quite creature. “We don’t have to see the same things, and that way we see twice as much,” Mosley remarks about his drawings. Mosley’s ability to inspire, provoke and engage ripples across every contorted outline, every twisted form, every time the characters touch, or when they just almost do.
As a child, when Mosley’s parents read to him, the world seemed like a magical place and he had hoped that when he would write he would be able to create magical things. “But when I went to school, I was writing A, A, A, B, B, B… and not very well… and I was stuck within those lines, and they were not interested in what you’re thinking, your notion of magic is wrong.”
“From the age of 12 to 26, you don’t to learn to take chances,” Mosley says of an educational process that emphasizes grades over creativity. “The only way to learn is taking chances. By 25, you’ve lost the ability to take chances. Your intelligence has shot-circuited its own potential.”
Years later Mosley drew lines across a page and filled in forms, realizing that this is what he had wanted to do as a kid; letting his pencil roam in an alien terrain where there were no rules to obey. “My blob is perfect and nobody can tell me otherwise,” Mosley smiles.
Thus was born Alien Script, the “blobs” are images that “I would have done if I hadn’t gotten tied to writing,” Mosley says.
Mosley was a mediocre student at school. “By the time I was 34, I was already a failure,” Mosley says, but for him that’s not a bad thing. “I draw, write, I do political stuff, I cook duck eggs, I do pottery and one of the reasons I could do those things ‘cause I wasn’t good at school.”
Mosley adapts himself to the ebb and flow of success and money, taking it in stride. Once when he was walking with his dear friend, the late choreographer Gregory Hines, he had just gotten a book deal. “I was really broke and now I have all this money,” Mosley told Hines, to which Hines said, “And you’ll be broke again.”
“I’m broke right now. It happens, the economy changes, things change,” Mosley says. Luckily, for Mosley, success has never been about money but about unleashing creativity.
Mosley’s next book, which is being published in six months, is about a black porn star who ends her career without rejecting the lifestyle and its people. And there’s more. He also has two e-books and a science fiction novel in the works.
And he will continue to draw, never leaving the house without his trusted black notebook of drawings. “Almost everything I do today is something I did as a child. You’re pretty lucky if that’s the case.”
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