Brain Trash from James Drake That’s Not On View

Somewhere in a white studio a connection is being drawn among the denizens of Dante’s Inferno, Melville’s salt-encrusted metaphysicians of the oceans, the mathematical physicists of the destructive energy of infinitesimal matter, extinct melancholic and non-systematic essayists in prose and paint, fanatical taxonomists and unifiers of natural and unnatural history, and those susceptible to the illusion of knowing through seeing with their insatiate desire to bind within a single life the limitless infusoria of the imagination. Such, it seems, is the studio of James Drake.

Madison, Wisconsin & Santa Fe, New Mexico

James Drake at work in his studio. Photo by Eric Swanson.
James Drake at work in his studio. Photo by Eric Swanson.

So begins the catalog text for the unique publication that accompanies the Blanton’s exhibition, James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash). The Blanton’s video introduction to the artist in his studio, screening now in the galleries, shows us traces of this wealth of ideas and information that Drake draws from: books, books and more books stacked and shelved all throughout the white space to which Dr. Krakauer alludes.

As you might imagine from seeing his drawings, the artist is a voracious consumer of great culture, drawing inspiration from literature, films, and music in equal measure. So we asked him to tell us some of his favorites and, as befits a man who filled a space with 1,242 drawings, his annotated list is ambitious! “These books, movies, and songs have been a significant part of my life for years and are always lurking in the back of my mind,” he said. Check out the great works below and gather a few ideas of your own to add to your bucket list of things to read, watch and hear in 2015:


Especially non-fiction: science, history, biography

The Bible
Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey
Dante, The Divine Comedy
John Milton, Paradise Lost and Regained
All of Shakespeare, especially Hamlet
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Edgar Allan Poe
Franz Kafka, The Trial
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov
James Joyce, Ulysses and the short story, Araby
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian


All Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan (there is even a nude scene in one – unbelievable for that time)
A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando, the greatest male actor of all time, and Tennessee Williams – need I say more
Ben Hur: great Cecil B. DeMille spectacle
Bird of Paradise: pure romantic schmaltz – but I love it
Bonnie and Clyde ushered in a new era of film making, truly ground breaking
The Creature from the Black Lagoon: my favorite monster movie – underwater swimming scenes – wonderful
The Color Purple: I watch this every Christmas Eve for some reason – always moves me to tears
The Deer Hunter: an absolutely great, great movie – profound and moving – especially for someone who was in the military during the Vietnam War
Dr Zhivago: my favorite love story – had a crush on Julie Christie for years
East of Eden: John Steinbeck – a great writer and James Dean – the coolest actor that ever lived
Elmer Gantry: great acting by Burt Lancaster – a critique of religious fundamentalism at the beginning
Giant: James Dean again and Elizabeth Taylor – wonderful, especially for a kid from West Texas – I love it when James Dean strikes oil and says to Bic, “I’m a rich ‘un, I’m a rich boy now.”
The Godfather: One of my top five movies ever made
God’s Little Acre: In black and white with the most powerful and lusty sex scene ever filmed, and they don’t even take their clothes off
The Hustler: another B&W film with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie – seedy, gritty, and what a real pool hall looks and feels like – I worked my way through Art School in L.A. in a pool hall named Mr. Pockets – I related to everything in that movie
The Right Stuff: related it to the “art world,” same dynamics
Shane:  “Come back Shane” Woody Allen said it was the most perfect movie ever made
Somebody Up There Likes Me: Paul Newman comes from the mean streets of NYC (Little Italy) to become middleweight champion of the world (Rocky Graziano), very inspirational for me
Taxi Driver: also one of my top five movies ever made
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee – when Scout says “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.” I absolutely sob every time I hear that passage. By the way my sister Pi was exactly like Scout in every way: she looked like Scout as a little girl (even the same haircut), personality, and inquisitive mind
The Last Picture Show: My family came from a small town in West Texas (my mother’s side). Roaring Springs, that was the same – including the people
Midnight Cowboy: West Texas, naive, Andy Warhol, New York in the seventies, and of course Ratso Rizzo
Night of the Hunter: directed by Charles Laughton and universally panned – what a shame for a truly great movie and a great actor, Robert Mitchum. I can’t listen to “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” without seeing that movie in my mind
The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah’s realistic, gritty, bloody, and incredibly groundbreaking movie. Forever changed the face of movies and what an audience will accept. Hundreds of copycats try to capture that reality. The best western ever made
The Yearling: we were all yearlings at one time


Puccini and Verdi, especially Madame Butterfly
Blind Willie Johnson
Bob Dylan
Bobby Blue Bland
Bob Seger
Edith Piaf
The Fleetwoods, Mr. Blue
Fleetwood Mac
Dean Martin
Jeff Beck
Jimi Hendrix
Johnny Cash
Laura Nero
Lucinda Williams
Luciano Pavarotti
Martha and the Vandellas
Marvin Gaye
Mile Davis
Muddy Waters
Neil Young
Patsy Cline
Roy Orbison
Sam Cooke
Sarah Vaughan
Sons of the Pioneers
Smokey Robinson
Steve Earle
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Tammy Wynette
Tanya Tucker
Tim Buckley
Townes Van Zandt
Van Morrison
Hank Williams

James Drake: Anatomy of Drawing and Space (Brain Trash) is on view through January 4, 2015. For more information about the exhibition, please visit our website.

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