About the Cover
Artists: Derrick Breidenthal, Howard Skrill
Series: Artworks, Anna Pierrepont series
From the editor-in-chief:
The cover of this year's spring issue depicts an overlapping of two paintings by two different artists. The first is Derrick Breidenthal, who has contributed the cover piece “Adrift” along with several other beautiful nature-inspired paintings that grace themselves in some way throughout this issue. What continues to mesmerize me about Breidenthal's work is how he, to put it finely from his artist statement, “pursues painting methods that enhance the perfection of a dream,” while holding them up “to the roughness of reality.” What results in his work conveys the everpresent contradiction of existing beauty alongside the stress that the nature in his pieces is subdued with, whether it be from the damage wrought by man-made harm or by the erosion of the very earth itself in its cycle of life.
The second is Howard Skrill, who sent us a series he’s been working on for many years that illustrates how history is being memorialized and addressed through statues and our interaction with them. Skrill’s cover piece, “J.E.B. Stuart Splashed Red,” depicts the equestrian statue of Confederate general James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, and used to stand on a stone pedestal on the notorious Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.
Skrill's "J.E.B. Stuart Splashed Red"
Monument Avenue is known for its prominent display of Confederate statues that almost act like centerpieces dividing the cobbled road and greenway—each statue has its own island that cuts the roadway into wide and often confusing roundabouts. I know this because Richmond is my hometown. The street where Stuart stood and now only a pedestal remains was a street I walked across to get to class, the street I drove down to go to work, the street I biked home on after spending an afternoon reading by the riverside.
The Confederate monuments on this road have been a historical point of contention for many Richmonders, a subject of discussion baked into the culture of the city even after some of these statues have since been removed due to civic action and endless nights of public protest. However, the fight isn’t finished. We are still here demanding post-humous justice, for Marcus-David Peters and for the many Black lives lost to systemic police brutality whose names are graffitied onto the pedestals and etched deep into the sidewalks of the monument circles that still memorialize Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson—two figures we’ve learned about in history textbooks growing up without the necessary critical lens to demand why they are still tokenized on our streets today. Even walking down Monument Avenue now, in 2021, you can see how the traditions of our past are buttressed brutally against the present.
The two paintings on this issue’s cover have helped me envision a future rooted in liberation while simultaneously acknowledging the wounds of the past and present. The ethereal reclamation of nature Breidenthal’s painting evoked in me when I had paired “Adrift” with Skrill's “Jeb Splashed Red” echoed how I have been responding as I sit with fatigue and exhaustion alongside those who have unjustly lost the ones they loved, and alongside others who claim they’re ready to “resume their normal lives.” How do I embrace the life I’m able to live while others can no longer do so? How do we remind ourselves of loss in order to build a future rooted in hope?
One answer might lie in the wake of absence. In one analysis of Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, a group of climate psychologists describe the dawning of a social revolution built on a radical hopefulness, one that relinquishes “old values and identifications” and embraces “what has been held in their shadow.” Lear, in his book, was documenting the account of an indigenous leader, Plenty Coups, and his grappling with a hope for an indigenous future that may no longer look like the one he had envisioned in the past. In seeing the artwork, the prose and poetry we’ve accepted in this issue interact with one another, I wondered if perhaps this kind of devastating perspective of hopefulness in the wake of significant absence is one that might sustain us alongside our grief and anger.
Lear also indicates that this kind of hopefulness will ultimately evolve into resilience. Here is where Lear and I disagree. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being told to be resilient—and I’m sure there are many others out there who feel the same way. Instead of a resilience, I envision a solidarity—one rooted in the practice of compassion and vulnerability in order to break the cycles of racialized and class-oriented grief.
As we continue to fight for the liberation of all peoples, consider once more all we have lost. What else has grown in the wake of our grief? And can what exists in the shadows of their absence, with collective care and attention across all backgrounds, cultures, art forms and genres, grow into something worth protecting? What does your radical hopefulness look like? How does this feed into a world system that is stewarded by the ones who have been long oppressed, and silenced, in order to yield a society everyone feels safe and free to live amongst each other? Perhaps, after a long time ruminating on the various expressions of art featured in this issue, I’ve grown to appreciate how the pieces here might help us move towards something that inspires me to hope. I hope this issue does the same for you.
Nicole-Anne Bales Keyton
NICOLE-ANNE BALES KEYTON is the editor-in-chief of Breakwater Review and an editorial assistant at Beacon Press. They received their MFA in Creative Writing for fiction at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Their work has been published in RESPONSE and on their blog, HintOfLibrary.com.
Header art: "Adrift" by Derrick Breidenthal.
Header art: "JEB Stuart Splashed Red" by Howard Skrill.