A Mystery! A Mystery Made of Books!

It’s been quiet over here in the Land of Deadline Hell — quiet online at least — but I’m popping my head out because this story is too delightful to resist. Two delicate paper sculptures made from old books have been discovered at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and no one seems to have any idea of where they came from or who the artist might be.

Paper sculpture found at Edinburgh Book Festival 2011

But the story doesn’t end there — or rather it doesn’t begin there. These two paper sculptures are only the most recent gifts left anonymously to Edinburgh-based arts groups throughout the year. The Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland, the independent Filmhouse cinema, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre have all found themselves surprised and delighted recipients of these beautiful artworks. Wander over here for full details and photos.

Book scupture found at National Library of ScotlandMy favourite is possibly the gramophone and a coffin ensemble (from the National Library) which was sculpted from a copy of Exit Music by Ian Rankin. The attached handwritten note  reads, “For @natlibscot – A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. (& against their exit)”.

It’s a small but delicious mystery. Of course, part of me is dying to know the full story — who the artist is, why they are making and leaving these sculptures, what they plan to do in the future — but most of me will be quite content to have those questions remained unanswered, and somewhat saddened should all be revealed. For all the wonders of our click-to-know-more, information-saturated age, there is a dearth of mystery, a scarcity of cracks and unexplored crevices in which the seeds of imagination may take root and flourish and give off seeds of their own. We need the what ifs and the why on earths and the who can it bes. We need them like we need oxygen.

So thank you, unknown sculptor of books. Thank you for sending my mind down a series of whimsical paths this morning when I read about your exploits. Thank you for the thousand and one stories my imagination spun after witnessing the fruits of yours. May your penknife never dull; may your creativity bloom ever bright.

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Creativity, Talent and Discipline

I stumbled across a short clip from contemporary Irish artist, Guggi, the other day while off chasing links through the interwebs. He’s talking specifically about painting, but broadly about creativity in general, and I found it very refreshing to hear someone speak so plainly about the process, rather than waffling on about muses and inspiration and Art-with-a-capital-A.  It’s easy to translate what he says about his creative medium (paint and canvas) into advice about mine (words and paper).  Here are his thoughts on writer’s creativity block, for instance:

There’s no doubt about the fact that painting is not all about the “great stroke” — the great stroke that brings it all together, that now makes sense of all of the work and all of the effort. It’s also about priming canvases, it’s about sweeping the floor, it’s about mixing paint, it’s about so many things. And you know what? People can call it luck, they can call it whatever they want, but the more time I spend in the studio, the luckier I get. I don’t entertain people that sit around for a year waiting to be inspired. That’s bullshit.

I think I need to remind myself of this the next time I spend three hours in front of the word processor and come up with exactly one good paragraph.  Because sometimes it really is just about mixing the damn paint.

Speaking to the Soul

"Girl Holding Fox" by Ingrid de Ridder

A couple of months ago, I was having brunch with some writer friends. As is the case with certain types of cafes, there were a whole bunch of unframed paintings on the walls available for purchase. One of them in particular caught my attention and I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out exactly what it was that made it so remarkable. It wasn’t the kind of art I’d normally find all that interesting or attractive — for one thing, there was a lot of pink. I don’t do pink. It gives me hives. But by the end of brunch, although I still hadn’t pinned down exactly what it was about the painting that I loved so much, I knew that I wanted to buy it. Needed to buy it, even. So I put my name down and the girl in the cafe put a sold sticker next to the canvas and this week I was able to finally go back and bring it home to hang in my office.

I still absolutely adore it, and I still can’t say exactly why this is so. I love the expression on the girl’s face, which seems — to me — to be vulnerable and frightened and brave all at the same time. Like she’s facing up to something she really, really doesn’t want to face up to — especially not in her dressing gown with only a small white fox as an ally — but damn it, she’s not going to back down any time soon. That fox looks pretty determined as well. And clever and wise (which are not the same things). A good ally for a pink-haired girl in a scary situation to have, I’d say.

I also love the brash, freehand style and — though you can’t tell this from the photo — the physicality of the paint and brushmarks on the canvas. Tracks left by the artist; unvarnished, unhidden. And I like the sense of incompleteness about the work — both the painting itself and the story it’s telling. Though there is nothing missing, nothing I would want to change.

But none of what I’ve just said manages to explain precisely why I had to have this painting hanging on my wall. I just did. I needed it. I love it. No further explanation required. And that’s all you can really ask of art, I think. That it should speak it your soul, with absolutely no need for justification.

The painting is called “Girl Holding Fox” and the artist is Ingrid de Ridder, although I have no idea who she is beyond being a woman who hung some canvases in a cafe in Balaclava. She doesn’t come up in google, although she might one day, so I hope she doesn’t mind that I took a photo of her work and put it on my website.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a talk with a pink-haired girl and her fox about this novel I’m meant to be writing.