The American Painter Emma Dial

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"Emma Dial is a virtuoso painter who executes the works of Michael Freiburg, a preeminent figure in the New York art world. She has a sensuous and exacting hand, hips like a matador, and long-neglected ambitions of her own. She spends her days completing a series of pictures for Freiburg's spring exhibition and her nights drinking and dining with friends and luminaries." Into this landscape walks Philip Cleary, Emma's longtime painting hero and a colleague and rival of her boss. Philip represents the ideal artistic existence, a respected painter, ...
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The American Painter Emma Dial: A Novel

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Overview

"Emma Dial is a virtuoso painter who executes the works of Michael Freiburg, a preeminent figure in the New York art world. She has a sensuous and exacting hand, hips like a matador, and long-neglected ambitions of her own. She spends her days completing a series of pictures for Freiburg's spring exhibition and her nights drinking and dining with friends and luminaries." Into this landscape walks Philip Cleary, Emma's longtime painting hero and a colleague and rival of her boss. Philip represents the ideal artistic existence, a respected painter, fearless and undeterred by fashion. He is unmatched by anyone from Emma's generation. Except, just possibly, Emma herself. Emma must choose between the security of being a studio assistant to a renowned painter and an unknown future as an artist in her own right.
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Editorial Reviews

Deborah Vankin - Los Angeles Times
“The author's writing is lean and powerful, with passages that cut to Emma's core and incrementally move the story into deeper emotional terrain....a more than impressive debut, with a complicated, vulnerable central character who's courageously living out the universal creative struggle....it's a graceful personal journey, an intimate snapshot of a young woman at a seminal point in her life, on the brink of either discovering her true self or becoming unhinged.”
Barbara Fisher - Boston Globe
“Emma is a fully developed character, a smart young woman who must choose between an easy pass into a world of excitement and glamour and the hard work and heavy risk of personal achievement.”
Ron Slate - On the Seawall
“[A] splendid first novel....A wonderful achievement, The American Painter Emma Dial is a novel that should have broad appeal—a treat for both the artist of any medium and the general reader.”
Deborah Solomon
In her witty and impressively observed debut novel Samantha Peale has given us what is probably the first novel narrated by a studio assistant in New York in the 21st century…Emma Dial, in the end, is a stirring reminder of the countless young artists stuck in captivity as assistants, hoping their gifts will extricate them.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

From former Jeff Koons studio assistant Peale, an introspective examination of art, talent and motivation in the contemporary New York art scene. Emma Dial is 32 and the right hand to prominent New York artist Michael Freiburg: Michael dreams up the ideas and Emma-armed with her skill and his trust-does the painting. Through their stormy six-year relationship, Emma has reached a certain level of comfort, painting five or six major works a year at $20,000 apiece. Yet as art becomes work and her talent is appropriated to someone else's vision, Emma finds it increasingly difficult to visit her own studio, much less come up with ideas of her own. Michael and Emma, of course, also sleep together. When Michael's friend and rival Philip Cleary enters the picture, choices become increasingly confusing for Emma as Philip pushes her to break free of Michael and focus on her own work. There's a controlled neatness to the novel that feels at odds with the fury and passions of its artist characters, and the quiet late-book revelations aren't exactly inspired. All in all, it's fine, if a bit light. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The title character in Peale's debut is a gifted artist who paints for someone else. Famous artist Michael Freiburg develops ideas and directs Emma's work, who applies paint to canvas. Through their relationship, working and physical, Emma survives as an artist in New York, but Michael's ego and appetites keep her from her own art. While she has her own appetites-including cigarettes, coffee, wine, chocolate, music, and friends-Emma feels guilt over her empty studio and the old life she abandoned. There is no more swimming, no walks to her Brooklyn studio, no biking, no drawing, and no painting for herself. Already discontented and unsure of Michael, she encounters another successful, magnetic artist named Philip Cleary. Through a powerful connection with Philip, Emma painfully detaches herself from Michael to begin her own career. The reader is drawn deeply into Emma's world as well as the art world of New York, and feels all of the protagonist's highs and lows. Peale's unapologetic style feels bold and genuine.
—Shaunna Hunter

Kirkus Reviews
In Peale's debut, a young woman slowly disentangles herself from the famous artist she's been "assisting" by painting his canvases for seven years. Such arrangements are understood, though seldom openly acknowledged by denizens of the high-powered, morally slippery New York art world, in which Emma Dial's status is based on her relationship with her boss, Michael Freiburg. Emma, 31, whose brown hair turned silver at age 20 after her beloved grandmother died, fears that there's truth in her censorious art-historian mother's assessment of her abilities: She's technically skilled but has nothing to say. So she keeps working for Michael and occasionally having sex with him, though he's married and considerably older. It seems safer than the career path of her best friend Irene, a gorgeous filmmaker who's always starting projects and abandoning them. Yet Emma misses "the sensation that I was in the thick of creating," and the flirtatious attentions of Michael's friend and rival painter Philip Cleary prompt her to slowly reassess her life. Very slowly, which is a problem with Peale's sharply observed but peculiarly structured text. It's difficult for readers to be patient while Emma smokes and seethes for a good three-quarters of the story, with little in the way of plot except various encounters with old friends that underscore how aimless she is. Also, although Emma tells us that Michael "lent me importance at a time when I felt I had none," all we see him give her is grief and overbearing instructions about how to paint "his" artworks. The novel improves considerably in the final 75 pages, which include an ugly confrontation with Michael and a subtly sketched portrait of Emma's evolvingconnection with Philip. It seems at first that this will prove to be another exploitive relationship with an older, more powerful and famous man; instead, the optimistic closing chapter shows him willing to accommodate her growing self-confidence. A more energetic, swiftly paced narrative would have strengthened this portrait of an artist coming into her own, but it's a promising first effort. Author tour to New York and Los Angeles
The New York Times
“In her witty and impressively observed debut novel, Samantha Peale has given us what is probably the first novel narrated by a studio assistant in New York in the 21st century. . . . Emma Dial, in the end, is a stirring reminder of the countless young artists stuck in captivity as assistants, hoping their gifts will extricate them.”
The Los Angeles Times
“These are rich, ambitious ideas that Peale takes on—questions of art and identity, commitment versus personal sacrifice, the precarious and charged student-mentor relationship, sexism in the art world, boundary issues of all stripes; she deep-dives into all this, yet her novel never feels heady or forced. Instead, it’s a graceful personal journey, an intimate snapshot of a young woman at a seminal point in her life, on the brink of either discovering her true self or becoming unhinged.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393068207
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/11/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Samantha Peale lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2010

    Read it!

    Even though I am much older than Emma Dial, her character rang very true for me as a young woman, and the young women I know today. Peale captures the ambivalence, determination and sometimes confusion of talented women finding their own voice in relationship to powerful and compelling men.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting look into the New York art world, but hard to like the main character

    I put Emma Dial, American Painter down more than once, not planning to finish it, but I found myself drawn back just to see if Emma would stand up and walk away from the egomaniacal painter she works for. Toward the end of the novel--spoiler here--as Emma's need to paint overcomes her self pity, I was touched by Peale's portrait of an artist as a young woman whose talent is finally liberating. Unusual for a first novel, the writing is better--more convincing, more show than tell--at the end of the book than the beginning.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    An artist's journey to herself through the urban jungle

    This is a wonderfully written book. The details of NYC life in the art world during the 90s is rich, authentic, sad and exciting. Emma's journey through art to her adult self is exhilarating. The voice of the author is wry, vulnerable and very funny. I loved it and look forward to Samantha Peale's next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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