Christopher R. Al-Aswad – A Tribute
Entered into life July 16th 1979 – Escaped into life July 27th 2010
Hiromu Kira, “Man on Steps, Bowl (The Thinker)”, c. 1930
When Chris set up this Online Arts Journal a little over a year ago, he dedicated it to his late mother, the artist Rosalind Al-Aswad.
Shocked by his untimely death, his bereft family and followers feel that an appropriate way to honor Chris’s vision is to keep his beloved journal going. So Escape into Life is now also dedicated to Chris, its inspiring and charismatic founder. It is his legacy and also, we hope, his enduring monument.
In the last incomplete essay that Chris wrote before his passing, he explored his dream of blending visual and literary arts through this online journal. Though unfinished and almost in note form, Chris’s distinctive voice shines through. It is reproduced below, incomplete as it was found.
When Visual Art Becomes Poetry
The complex inter-relationship between literary art and visual art is like an enigma to me.
This is not an intellectual puzzle I’m trying to figure out in my early 30′s. This is my life. This is what Escape into Life, online arts journal, embodies: the fusion of two types of media; art and literature; and the urge to discover what happens when a journal allows both forms to meld and grow as an organic whole.
Escape into Life aims to explore, enmesh, and mostly, to uncover the core similarities of the two through the growth and development of technology, community, and inquiry.
At the most basic level, there’s poetry and there’s visual art; separate and distinct forms of artistic expression. Nonetheless–the history of visual art and the history of literature reflect each other to such a degree that it would seem visual artists and poets are made from the same.
It’s more like an intuition has grown over the years. Undoubtedly, my parents, my upbringing, my talents and lack thereof, contributed to these two equally strong influences in my life. Mixed exposure to both literary and visual art.
Escape into Life, online arts journal, is basically a new media experiment to blend, meld, mesh, mingle, interrelate, bind, juxtapose, and interpenetrate the two forms of art.
The best comparison is to a scholar or a scientist who comes to discover that their life-work revolves around a single theme.
Of course, there is reason for my interest in this subject of art and literature; and how they remain separate and distinct and yet intricately enmeshed. My mother was an oil-painter, I was exposed to art at an early age, and I was brought up in her creative shadow. –and a life-long exploration of mine–that fuels the very online arts journal you are reading right now, called Escape into Life.
I have no philosophy or common goal I wish to convert our readers to. There is no academic bent or political ideology behind this journal. Escape into Life pushes the boundaries of visual art, literature, and poetry. – Chris Al-Aswad
Essays by Chris Al-Aswad
Chris published his writing online under his pen name Lethe Bashar. Lethe Bashar is also the lead character he used in the Novel of Life. Chris wrote the Novel of Life as a “recording”, a fictional history of his adolescence, to have a more comprehensive understanding of the past. He wrote 22 chapters in all. A continuance of the Novel of Life is Las Vegas, a graphic novel completed with 61 chapters. He also was writing The Book of Innocence, better known as The Blog of Innocence. These were chapters of his “present” life as it happened beginning in the year 2008. Chris intended to publish four volumes of essays online but he only published the two below.
Taking Off the Mask – Essays Volume I
Sentimental Education: Essays in Art – Essays Volume II
More of Chris’s writing can be found in his Collected Essays.
Poems by Chris Al-Aswad
The Pleasures are Fleeting
the pleasures are fleeting,
on some days you’re wondering
if they even exist
but in the slow station
of all our lives, a moment of being
comes and goes, lingers for awhile
out of a plateau, pleasures rise
this wondrous hot spring
fills you with momentary delight
and even the thoughts you are thinking
echo with reason and brilliance
and even the coffee tastes incredibly rich
so you want more of the experience
and less of the waiting, I suggest
a simple remedy, I suggest
breathing, maybe taking a break with me
on the pier, we’ll sit and listen to
the waves crash
The Swan of my Youth
I awoke in the middle of a summer night,
To see her resting outside my window,
Reposing on a patch of lilacs, crashed
Flowers under her sparse plumage, looking out-of-place,
And out-of-time, depleted after many summers
Of migrating between the many lakes,
Searching for food or friendship or refuge from
The ill-tempered geese.
Unfurling her long neck, she assumed the pale moon,
And conveyed her solemn song with dignity.
My mother painted a self-portrait
That now hangs in my apartment,
I am staring at that painting now,
Remembering how, in her final days,
She retreated into her room,
And held herself there–above all of nature
Without the taint of fear.
I remember when I rushed into her room, crying
How she poised herself,
Without a single feather stirring.
Anxious child beating in my heart
the anxious child beating in my heart
furious whirling child of discontent and love
you disentangle with grace
never losing touch with unmistakable anguish
to the bottom of the world
a cycle will remake you
as a cycle
broke you down
and all your thoughts about the world
i’m young again with you
i’m blind and naked and undefeated
anxious child come dance with me
what are you afraid of
only lovers speak this way
what are you running from
timid infant on a wave
the dark engulfing world
behind you and me
Read more of Chris’s poetry in Collected Poems by Lethe Bashar, and in his e-book Purposeless Solitude – Selected Poems by Lethe Bashar.
Podcasts by Chris Al-Aswad
In addition to his Blog of Innocence podcast, Chris started a YouTube channel in 2008 to explore and share what he had learned through his life experiences. Among the topics he wanted to talk about were poetry, philosophy and writing. In the video below, Chris talks about the characters in Dead Souls, a Russian novel by Nikolai Gogol.
The following is an excerpt Chris wrote in his own handwriting, from Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth.
From all of us who follow and love Escape into Life, thank you Chris, for everything.
A beautiful tribute to a creative and life-enhancing young man.
Thank you. All of us miss him dearly. He was so highly book smart and creative with such a big open heart to everyone. We are so grateful to all of our EIL supporters and writers. Looking forward to seeing the art community grow everyday. Thank you.
عزيزي باسل ،،الله يكون بعونك،،،،نمير نعمو
عزيزي باسل ،،الله يكون بعونك،،،،نمير نعمو
Basel and Mandy, I only wish I could have known him…such a beautiful soul. And Basel, when I look at him and hear him speak, I see YOU….
شكرا لكم من الأسرة والهروب في الحياة.
Words cant describe the unfairness and tragic loss of this untimely passing…of one so much more than ‘alive’,…So youthful , positive and generous of spirit & the guiding light & soul of ‘escapeintolife’. I pray he has indeed escaped to that higher plain, abiding with the eternal humanitarian, and will sing there as always; life affirming; evermore unto infinity…
I think it is a great idea to keep his project alive, and also Chris’ memory.
Chris was an inspiration to so many, it seems only right to give back, to keep his dream alive.
There’s a whole team, drawn from among the strong community that Chris created in a little over twelve months, working to keep this site alive and flourishing.
Our present work is also inspired by his energy and passion and dedicated to his memory, we’re all proud to be part of the effort.
It amazes me he touched me so deeply but only via email, the articles and online…he got me writing criticism again after years away. He had a way of inspiring that was really special, and I talked about him a lot to others, how great he made me feel about writing again, and I kept pushing myself to do more, so I could interact with him. When he stopped answering my emails, I was distraught that I had done something wrong. But no. He was already gone then. I will think of him fondly always.
This has been a shock to me. I’m truly saddened to learn of Chris’ untimely death. I haven’t been active with blogging that I haven’t visited Chris’ blogs in a while. He had been one of my greatest online tutors/critics with my novel writing project.
I’m still astounded by this terrible news. Please accept my deepest and most sincere condolence. I pray that you and the rest of your family will recover from this tragedy.
Chris, may your soul rest in peace. Thanks so much for all your professional help and critiques of my novel. They helped me greatly and will be for the rest of my writing career.
I too have been out of the blogging scene for several months and am shocked to discover the news of Lethe, (as I corresponded with him). I discovered Chris’s amazing blog about 4 years ago and really tried to let him know how much I appreciated what he was doing, and how unique, and special his blog was. I saw his blog grow month to month and was amazed at his ability to connect so many creative people to one place of common ground. If I was feeling the need for inspiration, I needn’t look further than his masterpiece of Escape Into Life. The news of his passing is heartbreaking. The world has lost a talented, caring, generous and kind soul and I am very sorry I didn’t have the chance to Thank Chris for all he has done. Most fondly with Love, Tree
Wow. This is insane. I can’t remember why I started to follow Chris’s twitter but it was way before he had the handle Escape into Life. This website is definitely something to keep afloat in his memory.
[…] happened in July of 2010. It was around May that we exchanged e-mails as strangers. Seeing the tribute on Escape into Life put a lump in my throat. I had a bad […]
What a dazzling star. I was looking up Leonora Carrington and discovered that Chris had left us. I had noticed a silence from Escape into Life which was everywhere in it’s heyday. Due to his work, which was feverish. I am so sorry for his friends and family which must miss him terribly.
Hello! Chris, You are so missed.
he has a great vision and it is a great tribute to him that you’re continuing this work on his behalf. i admire all of you and other artists im sure are all appreciative of his endeavour to spread art from obscure reaches of the world into mainstream media.
he has a great vision and it is a great tribute to him that you’re
continuing this work on his behalf. i admire all of you and other
artists im sure are all appreciative of his endeavour to spread art
from obscure reaches of the world into mainstream media.
love the site, love the vision, keep it up
Thank you for the support and appreciation. We continue to do our best to keep Escape Into Life moving forward and a worthy tribute to its sorely missed and charismatic founder, Chris Al-Aswad.
Thank you for your kind words, greatly appreciated 🙂
Such a beautiful young man capable of seeing souls and that is a very deep deep blessing/curse…….one immediately cares for him and that leads to sadness in wondering from faraway what earthly thing would take such a precious gem from this lworld. Was his purpose in making a difference for others finished in this life, and now he can only touch strangers like me with, feeling our loss by his journey to a new life?
Thank you Dawn for your kind words.
Chris touched many lives and souls around the art world. He shared his energy and inspiration uplifting many artists to become who they are today.
The EIL team continues to inspire and support the art world continuing his life long dream. It is people like you Chris touches that keeps the spirit of EIL alive.
I have been thinking of him ALOT for the last few days and wondered why…So I came here to revive my memories…He was incredibly special, feverishly talented and generous…I miss him and will save a place for thinking his kind of thoughts and sharing however lowly, his kinds of visions…I could only guess at his accomplishments. Now, having read them here I feel lucky to have known him however briefly…Mercurial, Protean and with the ability to touch…Fantastic…
[…] on those various media, encountered via Twitter and then in some email exchanges, a young man named Christopher Al-Aswad offered gracious guidance about how to use them all. Operating in very different, artistic circles […]