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! 
R - STATEMENT REDACTED.
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....

Friday, 18 February 2011

Around the table with...Rima Staines. Part 1

Born in 1979, Rima Staines was raised by artist parents in London and Bavaria, and received a BA in Book Arts & Crafts from the London College of Printing. Her work is inspired by medieval history, folk art, Victorian illustration, East European animation, old tales from the oral tradition, and rambles through the hills and hedgerows. Her art has appeared in a number of exhibitions, and in books and journals published in the U.K. and abroad; she also writes stories, builds puppets, plays gypsy music, and makes small animated films. Prior to settling in Devon, Rima travelled around the country in a wooden house-on-wheels for a year and a day. She now lives with a poet, a hound, and many books in a crooked old cottage near Dartmoor.


Rima, Howard and Rex.


H - Rima, thank you for coming over. Rex and I have been so excited about this ‘Around the table' discussion, haven’t we, Rex?
R - Yes!
Rima - Thank you.
H - I want to start by talking about the art of blogging itself -- particularly since you encouraged Rex and me to start this blog, and even helped us to set it up, for which we are very grateful. And you, yourself, have an interesting and successful blog, The Hermitage. So I’ll start the conversation off by asking: Has blogging changed your art, and do you consider blogging itself an art form?

Rima - Blogging is a strange thing...and yes, it has definitely and utterly changed the way I work. For one thing, I'm able to make a living from my art, which I couldn’t do without the Internet. 
Baba Yaga.
R - Ah, I hadn’t thought of that.... 
H – Rima, you're someone who uses this technology in a very skillful and creative way.
Rima – But I started out so tentatively. I was told by an artist friend that I ought to create a blog, but at first I thought: What for? What would I write? Why would I have a blog? I was completely unaware of the whole blogging world. And it takes time, when you start, to find your 'blogging voice,' and to become comfortable with it. It's as though you are having a conversation with people, but you don’t know who those people are yet -- until they start to join the conversation by leaving comments on your posts. And then, after a while, you get a feel for what you're doing, and what the boundaries of blogging are. It's a strange, new kind of thing, a blog. It's not just a forum for selling your work, and it's not just a daily diary....
H - It's a whole new art form in itself?
Rima - Yes, and there are some people who do it amazingly well. It is a new art form, which I am discovering as I go along. It has really helped my writing too, made me feel freer. I hadn’t thought of writing as a thing that I do, but since beginning the blog, people have commented that they like how I write. Because it is live feedback, it gives you confidence. It's not a journal or diary that one publishes afterwards, it's right now. It's the truth: what I write is what happens in my life. But it is also a story.
H - Something that Terri [Windling] says she finds fascinating about you and your work, Rima, is that you have a distinctly medieval sensibility, but you combine this old aesthetic with 21st century technology to make it both ancient and modern all at once.
Rima - It's true that I'm fascinated with medieval art. In my imagination there is a great fondness for the time before industrialisation, when we had forests and wattle and dawb. But I’m not... 
R - You’re not a Luddite.
snowflight under the seasky.
Rima – No! I don’t want to be completely obsessed to the letter about any particular period of history. It's the way I see things. I did notice something about my blog the other day: I take lots of photos when I'm out on walks, and the ones I choose to post tend to be the ones without buildings. Actually, maybe that’s not true...I've just put buildings in my latest post!
H – Blogs are becoming more and more popular, especially among younger writers and artists. Why do people read them, do you think?  
Rima - I think it's because we are all a little nosey! We like to look into someone’s life, through their eyes. That's the unique thing about blogs, it is someone's personal view on the world, an expression of themselves.
H - Would you say that blogging has changed the way you make art?
Rima – No, not really, it is more that I approach blogging the way I approach my other art. It takes me a whole day to write and arrange a post; it's almost like working with clay, shaping it until it's just right. I want to make sure that each post has a good arc, that things link on nicely, and that the photos I use work well with its theme...so that it all hangs together well. It's a little like doing a school project.
A girl mad as birds.
H - Yes, I know what you mean! 
Rima - Also, now I have a place to show people my work. And it’s amazing to see some of the countries that people are reading in!
H – Rex and I find that exciting too. We'll put up a post on a Friday and within minutes someone in Australia or Canada is reading it. It’s quite mind blowing!
Rima - It really is. Sometimes I get sent photos by people who have bought one of my prints, showing where they are hanging in their houses. It is so interesting to see how they have chosen to put my work in their life. The internet is such a connection.
H - Rex do you have a question for Rima?
R - Yes, I wanted to ask you about town. You’ve been here for a year and a half?
Rima - Yes.
R - In our 'Around the table' with David Wyatt, I asked him about how he felt living amongst some of the artists who had influenced him when he was younger…
Rima – Yes, I remember reading that.
R - Before you came to town the first time, you had been corresponding with Terri?
Rima - Yes.
R - And then, when you settled here, you and I shared Terri’s studio for half a year.
Rima – Yes...
H - Okay, Rex, and your question is…?
R - How do you feel about living in this town?
Rima - Is it a town or a village?
The fish egg.
R – Technically it’s a town. But a small one.
Rima - Well, it’s very unique. Before I settled here, I was traveling, and I came across many beautiful places, but this is like nothing I have ever come across before. It is so beautiful here, very ‘nooky’. And there are so many lovely, kind and sensitive people in the community. People genuinely care about and look after each other. There are so many artists, actors, potters, mythic creators. It almost unbelievable. It's brilliant!
R - It reminds me of the quote at the end of your blog, ‘so many stories, but only one story really.’
Rima - It’s almost as if something has drawn all these people together.
H - Have you noticed that living here has changed your art? If you look at David Wyatt’s work, or Alan Lee’s, for example, you can see how the Dartmoor landscape has directly influenced their work.
Rima - No, I don’t think it has. There is a strong thread in the work that I do, and the world that my work inhabits is how I imagine things. I utterly admire the artists you've mentioned, for obvious reasons, and for their ability to look at a Dartmoor scene and find inspiration in it. I don’t think that I do that, though. I rather absorb a feeling that the landscape gives me. There isn’t a word for it. It’s a kind of magic. When people write and tell me what it is that they respond to in my work, they often say that it has a familiarity about it, like a half-forgotten book from childhood. They feel a heart response, but also something ancestral. 
H – A few weeks ago, someone left a comment on this blog asking where inspiration comes from...and we've been passing the question on to the artists we talk to. Where does it come from for you, Rima? 
Rima - What a question! 
H – Well, you say you have this rich inner world within you...?
Rima - Yes, but it's not a specific place. It doesn’t have a name or a boundary! It’s more intuitive than that...it is more a flavor...or a feeling.
H – When we talked with Didier Graffet back in December, he said that making art, for him, was a means of traveling within his mind. Do you also journey inward to find inspiration? 
Hatter Clock.

Rima –  Yes, it is like that, in a way, but the process isn’t so premeditated. When I work I am not a great sketcher. I discover in the process of the work. I may decide where a figure will go in the frame, but it is rather loose. I am interested in the spark which happens when the image suddenly comes together in front of you and starts to work. If that happens in the sketch, then that is a waste for me. It's almost as if, while I'm drawing the lines, what I'm about to draw next reveals itself to me. Maybe I will start to see a face in some loose lines...in the same way that you sometimes see a face or figure in the gnarled bark of a tree. I am not completely in control of the process...it's as though the characters in the image make themselves known to me. It sounds a bit flakey, but I don’t mean it like that. 
H - I’ve always thought that being an artist, of whatever persuasion, is more than a vocation or a set of skills, it’s a whole way of viewing and interacting with the world.
Rima - It’s like having a receptive pool in the brain where ideas can percolate….
H - Percolate? I think that would be a good point to take a break and make some more coffee and tea. In the Part II of this discussion (which we'll post next week), we’ll look a bit more into this idea of the artist's life and the artist's work, and how they are often inseparable....




Above: One of Rima's animations.

(More of Rima's fabulous clocks can be found at: onceuponoclock.com)


Part Two, Here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

fortes fortuna adiuvat part 2

H - Rex, what’s the matter with you? You're trembling like a two year old! 
R - No, it’s just, it’s… I’m really excited!
H - I can see that.
R - I want to say it now.
H - No, you’ll have to wait! We need to get on with today's post.
R - I won’t be able to concentrate.
H - Pull yourself together!
R – Wait a moment.... Okay. I’m fine now.
H - Good. Last week we posted the first draft of the Prologue. And I'd like to say “thanks” to our readers for the encouraging comments asking for more. We will indeed be posting more comics pages in the future, and we're also working to make the site more navigable. So then, after the excitement of posting our first proper comics pages last week, this week we're going to introduce some more of the characters in the novel, as represented in the John Barleycorn Tarot deck. Rex, the next five cards are of characters from the 'inner world,' the mundus, of the story, aren’t they?
R – Yes, that's right.
H - The mundus is populated by both historical and fictional characters. They live in a very strange reality born out of the inner life of our main characters, the inner life of the population of London (both present and historic), and the actual history of London (and the world beyond it). It is an odd soup of enfolded archetypes and consciousness. Umm...have I managed to explain it?
R – Yes, and no! One of the principal aspects of the mundus is that these characters don’t die but, instead, evolve into caricatures of themselves.
H - Maybe the most succinct way to explain it is to give an example: One of the characters in the mundus is King Henry VIII. He is now a Judge in the mundus’ bizarre justice system. He still looks like a Tudor King, still claims to be the King of England, but in fact is just a drunken slob of a justice minister living on a run-down housing estate! 


Norma Jean Baker - L'Amour.

H - The sixth card in our tarot is Norma Jean Baker. She is a police inspector.
R – And, obviously, she is Marilyn Monroe.
H - Okay, that’s a little surreal! So why is she in the story, Rex, and why is she the L’amour card?
R - I thought it would be fun to put Marilyn Monroe into an authoritative position in the metropolitan police. I like the irony of how all the men who work under her have to do as she tells them. She is L’Amour because she is the archetypical ‘sexy blonde,' as well as the love interest in the inner world.  


Vali - Le Chariot.

H - Vali is the Chariot?
R - Yes.
H - Can you explain who Vali is, and why you've made him this card?
R - He's the son of Wotan, and an emissary of a Wise Woman, in the realm of the Gods, who sends him into the mundus to aid our heroine, Maggie. I've made Vali the Chariot because he is a dancer. He achieves trance states through ecstatic dance, which allows him to journey into other realms.


Henry VIII - La Justice.

H - The eight card is Henry VIII. We've already discussed him.
R – I've made him the Justice card because that's his job in the mundus. And it's just a coincidence that he's the eight card in the deck.
H - You mean you didn’t do that intentionally?
R - About as much as I do anything intentionally.
H - Unbelievable! 
R - Hmmm.
H - I have a feeling that you have a certain fondness for this character, Rex -- am I right?
R – Absolutely. Next to Reeve, he’s the one I most identify with.
H - A drunken slob…
R – Yes, back in the day.
H - …living on a run-down estate…
R - …..
H - ...with no prospects whatsoever of…
R - Steady on!


Vali - The Hermit.

H - So, Vali. Again!?!
R – Yes. Here he is the Hermit card, in the 'Warrior Monk' guise that he adopts when he manifests in the mundus


The Scribe - The Wheel of Fortune.

H – Now we have The Wheel of Fortune, represented by a rather Dickensian looking scribe. What’s all that about?
R - He is the writer of fortunes.
H - He makes only a brief appearance in the book, at a point when John Barleycorn is crossing a threshold towards his destiny...
R - Yes.
H - ...and we are still debating his role in the book overall. We have several ideas, some of which may be too far-fetched to work, even though we like them! Since this character appears quite a ways into the story, and we are still only making our way through the first draft, I'm sure it will all become clearer in time.
R - Clear as an unmuddied lake!
H – Hmm?
R - It’s a quote from Clockwork Orange.
H - Is it?
R - Yes. Howard, have we finished with the post?
H – Yes, Rex, why?
R - Can I say it now?
H - You are such a kid! Okay, you can say it.
R - Next week we have Part One of our 'Around the table' chat with Rima Staines! So stay tuned....

Friday, 4 February 2011

ad referendum.


R - I’ve just read the first draft of your re-write of the Prologue, Howard, and I think it’s amazing. I’m intrigued to know what happens next, even though I already know the plot!
H - Thank you.
R - So let’s post it!




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