Abstract Phil by Marco Barla

Abstract Phil is the first of four contemporary novels, two of which have been completed. Each story takes reference from the previous book, with the intent of a composite quartet. In this way, separate social communities are indirectly linked as part of mainstream American culture. Set in California, the characters are drawn from the world of art, motorcycle racing, surfing and feature film production. The lifestyle locations include the northern fishing harbor of Bodega Bay, the Angeles Crest Highway, the South Bay surfing beaches from Marina Del Rey to Palos Verdes and, most conclusively, the Hollywood motion picture studios. The point of view of each sequential reference comes from personal experience, beginning with an effort to explain the creative process, as represented by an abstract expressionist painter.

Phillip Riley, the solitary protagonist in Abstract Phil, is trying to clarify who he is and what he does, within the context of a May-September love story.

My friend Phil Roeber (1913-1995), who I met as a child growing up in San Francisco, provided the basis for Phillip Riley’s ethos. Roeber was part of the post World War II movement against representational art. Robert Motherwell, who was part of the New York School of abstraction known for Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothco and Willem de Kooning, called him America’s greatest collagist. Phil Roeber was unheralded and although he lived for his art, he died for it as well, in obscurity. The man was incapable of separating his private truth from his paintings. His words speak for themselves: “For me art is the intensification of a deep, personal, poetic feeling.” Phil Roeber’s advice in the pursuit of self expression was simple. “Trust your soul,” he said, “and get to work.”

The idea that art is love in Abstract Phil refers to both the act of creation and the emotional connectivity to that which inspires. In this way, the book is for my sister Marta (1946-1993) and my mother Jean (1925-1981), both of whom loved me unconditionally. The dedication to Phil Roeber, who was often referred to as “the aristocratic rag picker,” is equally inclusive, for his faith, his encouragement and his trust. Art is life.

Marco Barla