Her breakthrough novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” a decade ago sold 1.3 million copies. It led to a 2009 movie starring Rachel McAdams and a $5 million advance for her next novel, 2009’s “Her Fearful Symmetry.”
“I consider ‘art’ to include any creative work,” Niffenegger says via an e-mail interview from London, where her “Raven Girl” picture book was turned into a ballet by choreographer Wayne McGregor that recently ended its run at the Royal Opera House. “My writing is part of my work as an artist. I don’t worry about media, and I enjoy trying new things. Quite a lot of artists are also writers.”
Accordingly, “My intentions for this exhibit are the same as for my entire body of work. I am interested in the strangeness of the ordinary; in heightening awareness of the passage of time; in sex, death, rock ’n’ roll; in the fleeting nature of our selves.”
Certainly her visual works tell their own alluring, mysterious stories, with butterflies flapping out of ears, skeleton horses pulling hearses and women taking wing alongside birds in the 239 paintings, drawings, prints and examples of book art.
“A novel will usually have a larger audience than a graphic novel or artist’s book though I hope that is slowly changing,” says Niffenegger. Her writing career took off when “Time Traveler’s Wife” became a “Today” Show Book Club pick, but it was a different type of book — graphic novels — that was to have been the focus of what became a mid-career retrospective for the Chicago artist, writer and academic, who turned 50 on June 13.
“Book arts have slowly been gaining recognition,” Niffenegger says. “And as electronic publishing comes along, the book arts have influenced book design and have filled an urge to have more tactile, satisfying books.”
Indeed, she adds, “Many designers and artists who spend their time on computers during the day spend their studio time printing, binding [and] making paper. I think there is a craving for physical books and as more people become aware of book arts the audience will increase.
Niffenegger has found adaptation of her visual novels in other media, such as “The Raven Girl.”
“Collaborating with Wayne McGregor and all the creative people at the Royal Ballet was interesting and sent me down paths I hadn’t tried before. It was especially good because we worked together from the beginning; the story was made particularly for Wayne to make a dance, so it was not quite an adaptation, it was a work that is meant to have several forms.”
Next, she says, it will be a film.
“I would like to work on other performance works and collaborations,” Niffenegger says. One of her other visual books, “The Three Incestuous Sisters,” may become an opera.