Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 25 February 2011

around the table with...Rima Staines. Part 2

This is the second part of our 'around the table with...Rima Staines.' The first part can be found here.

Rima, Howard, Rex and Tilly.

H - So, here we are, coffee and croissants recharged, and I want to follow up on a subject we touched upon earlier: this idea of life and art being intertwined. Rima, you live, I think, in a way that I (and many other artists) do in that your life and art are interlinked. I often find that themes prevalent in my art become reflected in my life and vice versa. I am not sure at times if it's my art creating my life, or deep subconscious patterns in my psyche coming out in my art.
Rima - I think it's like a circle, a bit of a chicken and egg, but for me I would say it is more the latter: the art one creates is a manifestation of your subconscious thoughts, like bubbles bursting on the pool of you. The life you are living, the thoughts you are having, they kind of combine, coming together at a particular point in a particular way. Your art is a translation of your life stuff, which you set in stone, paint, or word.
Leg wheel and jew harp.
H - It seems that you don’t have much of a separation between your life and art. Did you set out deliberately to live without this barrier? 
Rima - I didn't really think about it. I grew up with artist parents, so it has always been the case that making art and creating beauty is quite normal for me. . . unlike many people who have had to struggle against their parents or society telling them to get a ‘proper’ job. When I was younger, I thought for a while that I might teach, so I studied language; but I actually knew that I had to create and make things. I almost didn’t realise that it was my job, though. That sort of snuck up on me. Now I am stubborn about making my days full of stuff that I love! I think for many people, doing their ‘thing’ is something that they wish they could do.
R – I think that as an artist you have to give yourself permission to live the life you need to live in order to make art, and the quicker you give yourself permission not to live an orthodox life, the better. 
H – Very true, Rex! So Rima, you didn’t have that common artist angst of wondering: Is this a valid life?
Rima - No, I always knew that I had support if I wanted to live as an artist. And I also knew that I would be pretty skint most of the time, and I have been! Talking to friends who had to go through the parental disapproval angst even when they had so much talent, it seemed strange. . .and yet in some ways more admirable for people to do it in spite of the opposition. 
R - I recall the frequent sharp intake of breath at Careers Advice at school whenever I said, “I want to be an artist.” And a similar sharp intake of breath at art college when I said, “I want to draw comics.” 
Rima – For me, it's not ever been so much of a choice, it's like I have to create art. 'Though there is also a strong aversion to doing something that I'd hate. If I had to work in an office, I’d go mad, and probably run naked down the street, screaming! 
H - Calm down, Rex! 

       R – Sorry.
A song to all our sorrows.
H – Something that my friend Ninnian Kinnear-Wilson said to me a few years ago really struck me. Nin was the mask-maker for my Commedia dell'Arte theatre company, Ophaboom, and he said that Commedia is not so much a theatre form as a way of life. To ‘do’ Commedia, you need to live an itinerant ‘Commedia’ lifestyle, since the real meaning of the form only really emerges from the lifestyle that is historically associated with it. Looking at your art, the ‘feel’ of it, Rima, I have the sense of a similarity between my theatre work in Ophaboom and your work as an artist. We're both interested in medieval ideas and forms re-worked for the modern world, and also in an artistic process of discovery: following where the drawing or art or story is taking you. When I direct, I follow impulses, movements, or an actor's delivery of a line, to see where that leads. And recently I had a similar experience in writing the first draft of our graphic novel when a character showed himself to me just as I was writing his lines. 
R - That's very exciting when that just happens, isn't it?
A mountain song for my wordless son.
Rima – Yes, it is! And what you were describing, Howard, that is the point: as artists, we try to say something to people here and now. And because we are manifesting our lives into our art form, it ‘ekes’ out of us. I think, for me, it's not just the paintings I am making, it's all the layers within them, as if my whole life infuses them. It is rich and immediate. Some people, I think, are drawn to art as they feel a lack of that ‘other’ in their lives. Some people fill that lack with drink, or TV, but others are pulled to fill it with art. 
H - Some artists seem almost like shamans, driven to sacrifice their own comfort in order to provide other people with access to that intangible place that, otherwise, many of us feel as an existential hole in our lives.
Rima - I am nigh on obsessed with the role of the Outsider, and with peripheral places. The edges of society, and consciousness. Literal edges too; the edge of the village is where the shaman would have their house. That person travels ‘there’ and reports back. It’s similar to the role of the Trickster, or the jester in his motley clothing. 
R - One of the roles of the jester, of course, was to tell the king the truths that the sycophantic courtiers were unable to do for fear of losing the king’s favour.
Witch bottle.
Rima - Puppets are like that. As they are not human, they can act in ways, and say things, that humans can’t.
R - You have modern day commedians like Stewert Lee, whom both Howard and I are fans of, who can get away with things that others wouldn’t be able to, telling things as they really are.
Rima - Connected to that, I am also interested in the broken characters. My dissertation at college was about that subject in medieval art: the cripple, the witches, the foreigner. These characters were often shown doing things that others couldn’t.
H - Which is what Carnival was all about, where the norms of society were inverted and turned on their heads. Sometimes literally! I think societies suffer when these times of ‘letting off steam’ are curtailed. Can we explore a little more this process that you mentioned earlier of following where the drawing or painting is taking you? It's very exciting, isn't it?, when it happens. It's almost as if one is transported.
Rima - Exactly! It’s like being in an altered state of consciousness. And it can take a real presence of mind to stay in that process. It often feels like walking a tightrope whilst you are creating; it is all too easy to come out of the process and look at your work as critic, or to go the other way and go too far with a particular idea. 
H - But it's fun to be in that state, isn’t it? 
Rima – Yes, it's zingy, but it's also edgy. I find it interesting to watch the curve of my emotional state when I sit down for a few hours to paint. At first there is the rush when something appears, but then as the image develops, my mood may tip down again, and I think, “This isn’t working after all.” At that point you have to decide whether to go on or to scrap it. Sometimes you end on a high, and have a piece that you genuinely think is a success,  but other times you do stuff that you forever hate. 
November clock.
H - How would you describe that place of inspiration? I would say that whilst one is in it, time seems to be ‘stretchy'….
Rima - Yes, but for me time is like that anyway! I have a stretchy sense of time, quite like a dream. 
R - The more you do it, the more it becomes a lifestyle. You start to live in an altered state. I know that for many years now I have not been right. For hours, days, even months I can be in an altered state, and then I suddenly come back to who I remember being.
Rima - It’s a little like coming out of the cinema, all the bright lights.
R – Yes. Fortunately that hasn’t happened for a while.
Rima – What, going to the cinema?
R - No!
H - One last question, Rima, do you have a favourite song?
Rima - Well, some of my favourite music is by Kumpania Zelwer from the stage show Daïssa, le salon des mendiants....


  1. Wow! The response to last weeks ‘around the table with Rima’ was quite phenomenal. We were a little overwhelmed by it!

    We couldn’t possibly have imagined when we posted last week how it would evolve into the “moveable feast,” which has ‘ping-ponged’ around the globe. A listing of other blogs which have taken part can be found at: http://windling.typepad.com/blog/2011/02/on-blogging-post-script.html

    It has really shown us the power of the internet to make connections, and spread ideas, and has introducing us to some very interesting blogs.

    We hope you find all this week’s offering equaling inspiring.

  2. Get ready for round two of inspired commenters! A wonderful continuation of the conversation with Rima. I'm listening to the music clip as I write (and, by the way a huge avalanche of snow is falling off my roof, bit by bit, in a wonderfully contrasting rhythm) The music video is like seeing one of Rima's paintings come alive. I have always "heard" this music when looking at her work.

    I love the bending time concept discussed here. I've got that, too. And my struggle is often coming out of my long days of being an artist to transition into two days of being a professor. Its a bit like time traveling, I literally feel like I'm leaving one world and entering another quite foreign land, its exhausting! Expanding and contracting - a bit like Alice - to fit into a culture that quite frankly is terrified of my expanded, wild self.

    Also, the emotional ups and downs that Rima mentions is so much a part of my painting experience.

    Thanks so much for another great installment!

  3. Ooops! Sorry, there were a few typos in our comment above, and we can't seem to edit it, so this is what it should have been:

    "It has really shown us the power of the internet to make connections, and spread ideas, and has introduced us to some very interesting blogs.

    "We hope you all find this week's offering equally inspiring."

  4. Wonderful music! And another post with so many things to think about, so many YES moments. I know that what I'm always trying to do is create a life that reflects my art, trying to LIVE my art, and often it is such a struggle when life is filled with all the ordinary everyday things that need to be done before I can let myself put on my 'artist's hat'...it's hard to find those opportunities when I can become immersed in that 'otherworld' for any length of time, and yet I crave it. Some people can 'compartmentalize' their lives but I'm not very good at it. I'm chuckling at Rima's comment about going mad working in an office. I've just finished up a 3 month contract doing exactly that, and though it was a perfectly good, nice job, and we needed the money, there were days when I felt I'd go nuts being cooped up in there, when my mind wanted to be off in that inner world and I had to keep dragging it back to deal with bureaucracy...I'm rather glad it's finished!

    The idea of the artist as shaman, visionary, outsider is one that has fascinated me for such a long time. Creating is definitely a kind of magic. I wonder what our distant ancestors thought as they created the magnificent cave paintings at Lascaux and places like it. Anthropologists in the past have often dismissed it as simple 'sympathetic magic' but as an artist, I know there is so much more going on there. Liminal spaces are also a favourite of mine, I wrote a few months ago about the fact that all the most interesting things always happen at the edges, whether it's art, social reform, science...they don't call it the 'cutting edge' for nothing. It's a scary but amazing place, where one thing bleeds into another, where borders are not absolute, so anything is possible. Funnily enough, one of my favourite 'sacred places' as a child, a large valley of bush with a creek running through it, was at the end of a short road, and the last house on that road was owned by an old art teacher at my high school. Artist and wise woman perhaps?

    Puppets, theatre, Carnivale...sigh, all things very close to my heart! When I was studying theatre a friend and I had a dream of travelling around in an old bus or truck, taking small shows to people in country towns...improvised sets, simple costumes and props...I definitely think we had romantic notions of living like a band of medieval players!

  5. Thank you for posting more of your interview with Rima! For me it has to be a way of life, or I'm unable to create anything. Switching on and off seems to kill it for me. I've tried to separate the two but my mind bounces back to my imaginary world so often, I think I've decided I must live there forever. :)

  6. Another fine conversation indeed! Making art *is* like wild magic, like that path through the woods of fairy tale, where things rich and strange lie in wait. I find that there is an inevitable resonance between the things one encounters on the journey and the shapes, sounds, colors and words that evolve during the creative process, an interconnection, in ways both broad and subtle, much like that of an "Imagined Village" or a "Moveable Feast."

  7. thanks for more conversation!

    And thanks too for talking about the shamanic
    and being art. Making your daily life an act of art. Less likely to be shared but as likely to have an effect? I'm thinking of outsider life I suppose and wondering how it is hidden in modern life especially when it isn't based on physical appearances.

    That doesn't reread very clear - it's an ineffable spirit I'm trying to describe. Both spiritual and creatic (I want to try out that word for awhile!)

    thanks everybody!

    I'm thinking of a late elderly artist friend - things 'happened' around him - people came to life and wandered away to create.

  8. nice job on both posts, rima is really able to speak to what it is to be whatever artist one is. it's always an outsider thing, at least for most of us.
    good interview!

  9. Rima shows us what we know to be true. It is not thejob I "do". I AM an artist, I AM a potter.
    It comes from within.
    Rima has also shown us all what we can do if we try, and if we let ourselves try, by both her work and her blogging.

  10. I just spent the last 1/2 an hour before I head off to bed this fine friday evening in Massachusetts reading your conversations...part 1 and 2. Thank you so much for sharing so many thoughtful ideas and questions about the creative process, life as an artist: the art of life and the life of art. I've become very interested in this creative world of blogging in the past year and it's refreshing to hear you all bounce your experiences and ideas off each other as you express yourselves using this medium. Rima, from the moment I first saw your blog I knew you are and create something special. Thank you for the inspiring bedtime reading. Good Night!

  11. Fascinating interview, and very glad to have found this blog too. Making me think about my own creative process. I find, quite often now, that I can't remember exactly how I wrote a tune or a song, so much so that I wonder if I wrote it at all. Most mysterious...

  12. Back again! I've really enjoyed this interview. Thanks to Rima, Rex and Howard.

  13. As a person who has to work in an office to support herself, yes, the desire to run naked down the street screaming comes over me quite often, but so far, I've spared everyone this sight. Having Word always open and jotting down ideas and pieces of work as they come to me during the workday helps. I love what Rima said about giving yourself permission to live the life you need to live to make art. It's not always an easy thing to do but she's right, the sooner the better. These interviews have been wonderful. Thank you.

  14. Really enjoyed this conversation with Rima. I've been a fan of hers for awhile now! Thanks for posting.

    Plus COMMEDIA!!! Glad to have found your work as welll!

  15. How delicious to read this interview with Rima, thank you, she has ever long been such a source of inspiration. It has been fascinated to see the threads growing at a rate across the web on the "moveable feast" & how magical an effect it has this blogging world on so many folks.

  16. Another great interview, thank you. Please keep 'em coming! (And the comic too.)

    -- Jon, who is not anonymous

  17. Oh Rima; Tricksters, outsiders, carnivales - oh my! let's immediatly form a medieval musical circus and tour around in colourful tents...

    Very inspiring, thank you.

    And exciting images from the graphic novel. What a find!

  18. Having a "stuck in the office" kind of "job" for a living I can completely understand, unfortunately.

    This post has made me want to peek around those corners just a little more sharply to see the grandeur and excitement that I know is there and play with wild abandonment.

    Can't wait to get started!

    Thank you again for this wonderful series of interviews, a look at some fascinating work all around and mostly for a renewed drive to do what I love!