In the year that has passed, I’ve been focusing energy away from blogging, to creating new work and new opportunities. I’ll leave this site here for the moment but if you’d like to see what happens next then please visit www.sistersaw.com
I remember a line in a film that said ‘Fear is what you pay for adventure’. A terrifying but enlightening boat trip in Cambodia recently brought this to mind. How strange those situations when you look at an empty beer barrel sliding on the deck and wonder if it would float if you clung to it and you wish, with all your heart, for your mother…
The Illustration Friday word this week is ‘Treasure’. It’s a good word. Both noun and verb like all the best words, it encompasses both fiction and fact as well as the material and ephemeral. It’s old fashioned. I can’t remember the last time I used the word which, again, indicates a good choice for the weekly illustration challenge.
My image relates to the treasure of the heart, as if the kiss at the end of a special correspondence is a cross that leads to buried gold of a kind. It’s not the hand-written map that counts or the material treasure, it’s the journey inwards.
I’ve taken a few cues from Robert Louis Stevenson’s wonderful map of Treasure Island where he was kind enough to warn the reader and the protagonists of strong tides and swamps as if they were going to tackle them together. The reality of fictional maps is compelling. A fictional maps says ‘exactly here is where it never happened’ – a beautiful paradox, a false memory by someone else.
The reality of treasure – of greed and of feeling a right to something that is not inherently yours – is actually much less romantic. A recent visit to the beautiful How Stean Gorge in the Yorkshire Dales and a visit to a cave rumoured to be the hoarding place of a famous highwayman Tom Taylor brought this home. Coming out of the darkness, in parts like the darkened ribs of a whale, I read that apparently Taylor had been caught and hung in that very spot where he’d hidden his stolen goods. Taylor’s story is as mythic, when you search for references to it, as Stevenson’s. Truth here is stranger than fiction or actually the same when no one is there to remember it.
Treasure, then, is a word to treasure. Loaded with ambiguity, mystery and story it offers a powerful motivation to dig deeper.
I thought for this Illustration Friday I’d reflect some of the feelings I had after seeing a Bull Run in Spain. It certainly was adrenaline-filled and dangerous, though I secretly wanted the bulls to take revenge for all the terrible taunting they got. Clearly the bulls were more terrified than the people..so my giant bull lets off steam and wreaks havoc on the streets of this town.
This week ‘Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer‘ by Peter Turchi reappeared, to point the direction for thoughts to come – a true ‘compass’ book. This books draws fascinating parallels between the act of map making and the act of writing, discussing all those fantastic maps that bridge the surface area of the novel and the ‘flatland’ of a place. It’s beautifully written. Turchi says on the first page -‘To ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story” and the rest of the work flows as effortlessly. Visually the book is beautiful too, full of illustrations.
One of the best chapters is the wonderfully titled ‘A wide landscape of snows’ that discusses the importance of blanks in relation to silences…from the fragments of Sappho’s poetry and Henry Beck’s 1933 underground map (successful due mostly to what it leaves out) to John Cage’s famous composition of silence. The book is full of quotes – Lewis Carroll, Herman Melville and Louise Gluck – and Turchi himself is worthy of many a quote…
“The blank page is only a beginning, as opposed to the beginning. Even after we mark the page, there are blanks beyond the borders of what we create, and blanks within what we create.”
Silence is a vital part of the novel too and Turchi quotes Hemingway in a wonderful line – “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows”. Turchi acknowledges the risks of communicating through silence, the challenge that the reader faces trying to make ‘associative leaps’. However “the rewards” he says “include the powerful bolt of understanding a leap can make, an understanding that reaches the reader beyond words, beyond rational explanation, and so is more intensely felt”
It’s refreshing to find a very non-academic ‘academic book’, one that twists and turns full of energy and ideas in a way that reminds me of Ernst Gombrich at his best. Like Gombrich, Turchi offers new and accessible analysis and connections, free from the turgidity of academic writing or the need to ‘prove’. If you have an interest in both maps and literature you’ll be hard pressed to find a better book to set your head spinning…
Spring flirts with the remnants of winter….passing seasons like a clumsy relay race, dropping the baton several times before finally taking over. I think though, that spring is here at last and the spring pictured is definitely equipped with a new broom.
The ambiguity of spring is very special. We literally change time for Spring’s arrival and mark it on the calendar but we are never quite clear when it’s really going to get here in person. Ambiguity is an important word. Whilst we may want to cling to certainty, ambiguity (the might or maybe or never) is perhaps the life raft we should swim towards.
My spring is punctuated by the ambiguity of the wonderful Leonora Carrington at the Tate Liverpool and the women connected, by proxy, with her such as Marina Warner and Angela Carter. Imagine being the baby brought up in the amazing cot/boat decorated by Carrington – a brilliant object in the exhibition! Leonora Carrington seems to offer the Tate something very different to the heavily curated contemporary art around it in the other galleries – an imagination that seems free of ‘the painted word’ and one that offers more questions than answers.
The final words have to go to one of Carrington’s fictional characters (she wrote fiction too) – “The answer is hiding somewhere, if I could only read”
The new year sees new non-digital working methods and a Wickes’ long paste table in the living room, scissors and glue, like a bad surgeon’s operating theatre. The first one under the knife was the ballsy ‘dancing princess’. A result of a four hour montage session where the only constraints were one found magazine and one evening. She dreams of a house built on the mountain side and takes no nonsense (more on the significance of ’12 dancing princesses’ to come soon).
The second speedy experiment is a half-man/half-dog who hates being told what to do, and resents thinking about Monday’s work on a Sunday. It’s lovely to work when the picture suggests itself and you don’t know what you’re going to make until you’re making it. The materials, that you’ve never seen before, ‘tell’ you what they want to be (without sounding insane!).
It all seems to make some kind of sense. I’ve recently discovered a forgotten book accompanying a Hayward Gallery exhibition from 2006 ‘You’ll never know: Drawing and random interference’. There’s a great quote about randomness from the dada-ist extraordinaire, Tristan Tzara: “What we want now is ‘spontaneity’ not because it is more beautiful or better than anything else. But because everything that comes from us freely without intervention from speculative ideas represents us”