Eduardo Arroyo With James Joyce in New York

Photograph Source: Camille Ruf – Public Domain

When I enter the prestigious Marlborough Gallery in New York, I find so many people there, it’s as if the paintings were in the background. I’m at the opening of Eduardo Arroyo’s exhibition. The slender figure of Isabel Azcarate, the Spanish painter’s widow, floats among the New York artists, critics, art historians and gallery owners who have come to the event.

The gallery is showing more than seventy works by the great Spanish painter who died four years ago. Since these paintings and graphic works span more than fifty years of Arroyo’s oeuvre, it is clear that, unlike many other painters, he is a historical-political artist, especially during the life of Franco, when Arroyo had to go into exile (1958-1976), but also in the years that followed when he continued to live abroad, mainly in Paris (1976-1998). His work uses irony, sarcasm and a sense of humor to criticize the Spanish political climate with its nationalism rooted in the Franco dictatorship.

Before leaving the exhibition I say goodbye to the painter’s widow and in her small group I discover Eduardo Lago, a Spanish writer based in New York. We talk about the novel ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, which Eduardo Arroyo accompanied with his illustrations, which have been published in an English and a Spanish edition, and will soon be published in a Chinese one. We also talk about ‘Ulysses’ in another context: the writer has published a reading guide in his most recent book ‘We All Are Leopold Bloom’ (in Galaxia Gutenberg, like the Spanish edition illustrated by Arroyo) and he recommends that I go to see the exhibition that the Morgan Library in New York is holding to commemorate the centenary of the publication of ‘Ulysses’.

I cannot ignore what the specialist in this book tells me and I decide to go and see the exhibit. From the gallery to the library it is a three-quarters of an hour walk. In the Morgan Library, that old museum that also houses great historical collections of books, I find the room that this year is dedicated to the writer from Dublin and his environment, focusing on his ‘Ulysses’. As in Arroyo’s work, in Joyce’s great novel, history and politics are very present.

From the Morgan Library I walk half an hour more until I reach one of my favorite bookstores in the city, Shakespeare & Co, and since it is connected to ‘Ulysses’ I would not go to another one. Beach, the founder of the original bookstore, near the Odéon theater in Paris, who first published Joyce’s novel, despite the refusal of many well-known publishers. The bookstore, on New York’s Lexington Avenue, is filled with students from nearby Hunter College. I look for the edition of ‘Ulysses’ illustrated by Arroyo and published a few months ago in English by Other Press and find it on the new releases table. I open the book and look at Arroyo’s magnificent illustrations of Bloom and his wife Molly, of Stephen Dedalus, of cats, bats and other animals, portraits of Joyce and that of a mysterious man in a mackintosh who could well be Joyce or Arroyo, or any one of us.

A bookseller approaches me and I ask her if the book is selling well. “Yes, very much so,” she replies, “in a short time the book is now in its second edition!”

I go out into the street and see Arroyo and Joyce in all the people and animals I meet in this symbiosis of life, literature and art that New York always is.

Monika Zgustova is a writer. Her most recent book is Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag. (Other Press 2020)