Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan

The Empress of Tempera.  Alex Dolan.  Diversion Publishing. September 2016. 282 pp. ISBN#: 9781682302972.  

Katie Novis legally changes her name to Paire Anjou because her family’s name is notorious for a horrible criminal event.  She’s very artistic and bohemian in taste and thinks her life in New York as a new artist is bound to be new and refreshingly clean of nefarious doings.  Her life with her boyfriend Derek Rosewood is exciting as he is a graffiti-guerrilla style artist who wants to both shock viewers and awaken them to social consciousness about troubling issues.  There’s an element of crime in the way he places his paintings but nothing that causes harm to anyone.  That’s all about to change for this young, vibrant couple.

Paire is unfortunate enough to observe a man staring into a storefront window of Fern Gallery.  She is entranced when looking at the painting the man is staring at so intensely he doesn’t even notice her presence.  But all of a sudden, before she can do anything about it, this man quickly dies.  The turmoil that follows is almost sidelined by shock and Paire’s realization that this painting is so intense as to enchant the viewer to obsessive looking. 

This is the story then of “The Empress Xiao Zhe Yi, Seated” by a Chinese artist Qi.  It turns out this is the one remaining painting from his entire life that is being shown for the first time.  The woman in the painting actually is supposed to represent a real woman, but the reader will discover her real story, a tale of bribery, greed and obsession that pulls in a financier, a gallery owner and his lover, Paire and Derek, and the artist’s sculptor daughter.

Although the characters are rather stereotypical, the reactions of viewers to this painting are both exaggerated and yet mesmerizing in their intensity.  One wonders how viewers could faint or become so enamored of this woman that it elicits their most lustful feelings?  Deny it but admit it’s temporarily mesmerizing!  One wonders if this is how some viewers saw “The Mona Lisa” when it was first displayed to the public? 

The plot will progress to attempts of theft and the effects will be disastrous for several characters.  Paire discovers that she is not so different from her family, a background that is also gradually revealed, and that her lover’s innocent acts shock even him into realizing how art reflects life’s most noble but also baser passionate aspects.

The Empress of Tempera is a great read that will move a large, wide audience and rightfully so!  Nicely crafted, Alex Dolan!

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