An exhibit called “Degenerate Art” so affected journalist Lisa Barr that it inspired her first novel, Fugitive Colors. The book was published this year by Arcade Publishing, but the Deerfield author began working on it over 20 years ago.
The book, set in the 1930s, focuses on a young Chicago-born Jewish artist named Julian Klein who flees his ultra Orthodox parents to pursue his art in Paris. He is befriended by several artists there and eventually winds up in Berlin at a time when the Nazis were determined to destroy modern art.
The author defines the underlying theme of her novel as the question, “How far would you go for your passion?”
“I have always written fiction and I’ve had short stories published. It’s kind of the two sides of my writing,” said Barr, who earned a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
The nonfiction side of Barr’s career life includes serving as editor of the Jerusalem Post for five years, during which time she covered Middle East politics, lifestyle and terrorism. She was managing editor of Washington D.C.-based Moment magazine and editor and a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, where her beats were lifestyle, sex, relationships and celebrities. She also is editor of the blog: GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom’s Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle.
Her foray into the world of novel writing began in 1991 when Barr was managing editor of Today’s Chicago Woman.
“I was sent to cover an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago,” she related. “My father is a Holocaust survivor so I went there thinking it was going to be some other type of Holocaust exhibit.” She recalled that the exhibit, “stopped me in my tracks.”
Barr learned about Hitler’s failed career as an artist and his bitter confiscation of works of art that he condemned as “degenerate.” “I knew from that moment, that I had my story,” Barr said.
She did about five years of research on Expressionist artists and that period of history before beginning to write.
“I understood that this was not a Jewish Holocaust of art,” Barr said. Hitler was out to destroy modern art. Any artist “who had ideas that did not comply with the Aryan ideal of art was considered degenerate.” She read books, did interviews and visited Paris to bring authenticity to her richly detailed historical novel.
Barr created a first draft 16 years ago while on bed rest prior to the birth of her first child. Fugitive Colors won the Hollywood Film Festival’s Opus Magnum Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript. But it took Barr three years to get back to the novel because she needed to focus on her children following a traumatic divorce.
After that, she got talked into self-publishing the book, which turned out to be a much more positive experience than Barr expected. A couple of months after the book was released, a New York agent read it and signed the author. The agent then resold the rights to Arcade Publishing.
Now, two decades after that first glimmer of an idea, Barr is setting off on a lengthy book tour, with the blessing of her very supportive second husband and three teenage daughters.
In addition, she is working on another novel because, like her lead character Julian, Barr has a passion for her art. “I would have to do it no matter what,” she declared. “There’s a lot of me within him.”