Bryn Barnard ponders parasites, dreams, and modern orchestras' Muslim roots.
The world's most successful parasite is toxoplasma gondii. Producing a chemical that slows our reaction times, it infects half the world's population, including half the US population, where we are likeliest to get it via soiled kitty litter and raw meat.
That's not the sort of information you'd expect to get from an award-winning fine artist, but Bryn Barnard acquired it while writing and illustrating his 2006 book Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History. Diseases are verboten in The Land of Smaerd, a children's book written by poet Andrea von Botefuhr and illustrated rously by Barnard about a magical realm where dreams wait to be dreamed. ("Smaerd" is "dreams" backward.) "In Smaerd," writes von Botefuhr, "they don't have hospitals, because no one gets bugs. The doctors cure bad dreams with kisses and hugs." A Fulbright scholar who graduated Phi Beta Kappa fromUC Berkeley, Barnard created otherworldly landscapes, skyscapes, and mindscapes for the book — levitating seashells, zebras aloft inside soap bubbles — in sherbet-soft colors that seem to glow. First developed during the Renaissance, "the technique I used combines opaque painting with multiple layers of oil glazes," Barnard explains. ".... When light hits this surface, it travels through the glaze, touches the surface, and bounces back into the viewer's eye." Each illustration took thirty to forty hours to complete. His favorite shows a boulder-studded mountain that, on closer inspection, is actually a dragon: "I like the two ways the image can be read — as a landscape or as a dragon sleeping so long that houses, villages, castles, and palaces have been built on its slopes," says the artist, who will be at Books Inc. (1344 Park St., Alameda) on October 4. That idea was inspired by volcanoes in Indonesia, where Barnard lived for several years. "Villages and cultivated fields on the island of Java ... spread up the fertile slopes of active volcanoes, right to the edge of the craters. The volcanoes might not erupt for a hundred years. They [are] like sleeping dragons waiting to roar."
Set to be published by Knopf next year, Barnard's next book is The Genius of Islam: How Muslims Made the Modern World, which he both wrote and illustrated. "I lived for over five years in the Muslim world," he explains. "I was shown extraordinary hospitality there and gradually learned about the deep debt our world owes to Islamic civilization. ... Modernity would be unrecognizable without Islam." One chapter details how "nearly all the instruments in the modern orchestra are descendants of instruments that originated in the Muslim world." In Mozart's day, he says, the percussion section "was called the Turkish section." 11 a.m. BooksInc.net