Skeptics have rolled their eyes, but Tim Youd was ready for that.
He knew typing — yes, typing; not writing — a classic novel would draw some criticism. But it usually disappears when he explains why.
It’s about the process, how he uses the same kind of typewriter the author did.
It’s about going to a place that captures the spirit of the book, about a creative process that results in a work of art.
This time, the process is unfurling on a fold-out table in the Louisiana State Capitol rotunda, which is called Memorial Hall. Youd types from an open paperback copy of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the King’s Men,” outside the House chamber, not far from where Willie Stark will meet his demise at the end of the story.
But Youd won’t get to that until Thursday, his last day in the Capitol. By then, the two pages on which he’s typing — one behind the other — will be covered in ink from the novel’s every word.
Those are the pieces that will be framed and added to the New Orleans Museum of Art’s exhibit, “Tim Youd: 100 Novels,” Youd’s ongoing project that will end with 100 typed novels.
“I’m on something like my 34th novel now,” Youd says. “I’ve typed five since coming to Louisiana.”
Last October, Youd was invited by the New Orleans Museum of Art to incorporate Louisiana into his project, focusing on five Louisiana novels: John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” Ernest Gaines’ “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” James Wilcox’s “Modern Baptists” and, of course, Warren’s “All the King’s Men.”
He typed “Modern Baptists” at the museum, but the other books required road trips.
“I typed ‘Confederacy’ in Pirate’s Alley and ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’ under the Miss Jane Pittman Oak in Pointe Coupee Parish,” Youd says. “Ernest Gaines used to sit under that oak when he was thinking of ideas for his books.”
“The Moviegoer” was typed in the lobby of the Prytania Theatre in Uptown New Orleans.
“Modern Baptists” originally was going to be typed in Independence, which inspired the story’s location.
“We kept that one at the museum, because we thought at least one performance should take place there since the museum brought me in,” Youd says.
Youd traveled from his home in Los Angeles to New Orleans for the project. Next up will be Georgia, where he’ll collaborate with the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Flannery O’Connor Andalusia Foundation in creating art from two of her novels.
But “All the King’s Men” is Youd’s priority now as he soaks in the atmosphere where Gov. Huey Long, the inspiration for the fictional Willie Stark, walked the halls and was assassinated. And when he’s not performing, Youd explores the city where author Robert Penn Warren lived, where he typed on a Hermes typewriter exactly like the one on Youd’s table.
“I always use the same kind of typewriter the author used,” Youd says. “Sometimes it takes time to track down the exact model, and a lot of times, these typewriters need work when I get them, but I want to perform on the same models they used.”
Youd makes it clear that he’s not channeling the authors; he’s simply performing a process.
And the result is totally different. The top sheet becomes covered in ink and the back sheet captures the ink seeping through the original.
The New Orleans exhibit will run through Feb. 21 and also includes Youd’s typewriter ribbon paintings, created by aligning typewriter ribbons along a surface, then extracting their ink with glue. Once the glue is dry, the ribbons are removed, leaving only their inked impressions.
“This is what I love doing,” Youd says.