I just put up a poster I’ve had forever (and is slightly worse for wear) of my favorite artist (sorry, Todd), Sam Francis, of White Line (3rd painting on that link). I also recently got a collection I’d been trying to get for years of my favorite author, Clifford Simak.
I’m not sure anything other than me ties those artists together, except that I get a similar feeling of peace and belonging when I see or read their works.
Sam Francis uses colors and shapes that just resonate deeply with me. He also appears to be a Jackson Pollock-like figure who randomly splashes paint about the canvas, but he actually planned out many of his abstract works and would try a given subject several times–each one managing to seem like a happy set of accidents with a hint of overall form. However, he would plan out each blob of color–but the works always feel spontaneous, fresh, and usually peaceful or fun.
Similarly, Clifford Simak was once best described by a woman on the long-and-justly-defunct Prodigy message boards as “like reading a letter from a friend.” The first story in the collection I’ve been reading is called “A Death in the House,” and is typical Simak fare. An old widower farmer discovers something strange on his farm, and realizes this plant-like creature he’s found is injured. He tries to find help for it, but refuses to let folks outside his small midwestern town disturb the creature, which then dies. He ends up burying the creature with a small jewel he found among its remains, which then sprouts into another creature. That creature manages to make him understand that the strange wire contraption he found near the first creature is his vessel and should be repaired. The old farmer does so with some reluctance, as he’s grown fond of the quiet, uncomplaining, yet utterly alien companion. But repair it he does, and as a thank-you, the creature leaves him the jewel, which is sort of a companion by itself. It’s tough for the creature to continue its journey without the companion, but it gives the gift because it had nothing much else to give in repayment for the old man’s kindness.
Simak’s stories have the same quality of peacefulness and occasional fun that I find in Sam Francis’s work. They are pastoral, usually set in some rural or semi-rural setting in a civilization that somehow resembles small-town 1950s America, frequently explicitly set in his home town of Millville, Wisconsin. People are decent but not overly fond of intrusion; generous but self-sufficient; and are set in their ways but willing to accept something strange that doesn’t make a nuisance of itself. Above all is a deep and abiding affection for the land.
Simak’s pastoralism is rather different from the technophobic back-to-nature types that arose in the 1960s or the know-nothing luddites that arose in response in the 1970s. His futures always have technological advances willingly used by his protagonists, but technology rarely is central to the setting.
His aliens are always extremely alien–nothing like your nose-appliance-of-the-week on Star Trek spinoffs. His characters are frequently repulsed by the difference, but usually they seek an accommodation, even if it is with tolerant humor. This lends his stories an underlying current of humanity even at their strangest and darkest–and as one heavily influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, his dark can be dark indeed.
The best example, if you want to read one, of Simak’s tolerance, humanity, pastoralism, and fun is probably The Goblin Reservation, which manages to combine science fiction, humor, fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror all in one.