A century ago Félix Fénéon, variously described as a “suspected terrorist, art-world tastemaker and literary instigator,” wrote a series of strange and wonderful miniature narratives for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. Now the artist Joanna Neborsky has illustrated 28 of them in her new book Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon, to engrossing and often hilarious effect.
Feneon’s compressed tales seem weirdly, even preternaturally, appropriate for our time, given our information-jaded, nano-second attention spans. And the topics of Fénéon’s fait-divers — clumsy criminals, unfortunate athletes and tawdry tableaux — are the very essence of early 21st-century irony.
Mixing collage and drawing to illustrate Fénéon’s stories, Neborsky intensifies their mordant surrealism with touches of her own visual wit. Asked about her sources of inspiration, she replies, “I start with image research. Early 20th-century French photography is a feast for the collage artist — I found more charmingly pantaloon-ed bicyclists than I knew what to do with. I maintain a very messy desk, where surprising accidents do occur; I make a point of welcoming them. I work very hard to imitate my heroes — Steinberg, Gorey, Massin — in their looseness of hand and still-fresh approaches to storytelling. And I try to create Dada-ist imagery with a coherent sort of nonsense. And color! Lots and lots of color.”