Leisure writing

University professor Patricia Hampl uses Matisse’s odalisque as inspiration for her book ‘Blue Arabesque’

by Sara Nicole Miller

The odalisque is a modern fantasy figure that portrayed Orientalism in many 19th century art movements. In short, an odalisque is a female concubine in an Ottoman harem. In length, her contemplative gaze and relaxed sexuality represents nostalgic bygones of exotic lands and conspicuous leisure that resonate within her universal iconography.

Henri Matisse was an artist obsessed with her, portraying the mysterious, alluring semblance of the female object in many of his works.

The languid silhouettes of Matisse’s illustrious women pepper Patricia Hampl’s streams of consciousness in her new book “Blue Arabesque.”

“I’ve stalked his girls as if they had secret intelligence about the life of the mind,” she writes.

Hampl is a Regents’ rofessor in the English department and has taught at the University since 1982.

The narrative’s creative center is Hampl’s 1972 visit to the Chicago Art Institute. As she dashed to meet a friend for lunch, she was stopped in her tracks, entranced by the woman in Matisse’s “Femme et Poissons Rouges,” or, as it’s known in English, “Woman Before an Aquarium.”

A hybrid of both memoir and extended essay, Hampl uses vignettes drawn from her own life to weave together a telling of art history and the mystification of place, from the South of France to the hilly fantasias of Summit Avenue.

“I love (memoir) when it works closely with the world rather than with the self,” she said.

“Blue Arabesque” Reading and Discussion with the Author

WHEN: 2 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Coffman Union, University Bookstore, East Bank

“Blue Arabesque” is as much a celebration of the chunkiness and romantic havoc of language as it is an exploration of leisure, place and the traveler’s ways of seeing. Hampl’s words saunter off of the page with crisp, evocative imagery and thinly cut descriptions that feed her organic, supple aesthetic.

“A Writer’s View – Just a Stop on the Circuit: Great Artists Visit Old Saint Paul”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul
TICKETS: $15, (651) 290-1221

“I wanted the book to have a narrative drive – a sense of trajectory,” Hampl explains, “but at the same time, it was based on a lot of disparate images. So the struggle was to find a way to link all the separate aspects of the book – Matisse, Katherine Mansfield, Jerome Hill and my own thoughts about leisure and the south of France.”

Spontaneous and multidirectional, with a sense of whimsical immediacy, Hampl explores her own psychic, developmental sense of femininity in the modern age.

“This modern woman looks, unblinking, at the impersonal floating world,” she writes of the woman on Matisse’s canvas. “Detached, private, her integrity steeped not in declarative authority but in an ancient lyric relation to the world.”