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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za


 
Boeke | Books > Boekartikels | Articles on books > English

Big Book Chain Chat #27: Sinew and bone


Ingrid Wolfaardt - 2010-12-14

Writers are frustrated artists and that’s bending it like Beckham with Picasso’s more eloquent way of putting it:

“Often, while reading a book, one feels that the author would have preferred to paint, rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person as if he were painting because deep in his heart, he would have preferred to use brushes and colours.”

To be fair, I find writers want to paint and painters want to write and there are but a few who seem to do both well. Locally, I know of award-winning Ingrid Winterbach and Louis Jansen van Vuuren, who has just published his first book of poetry after an illustrious career as a painter spanning a number of decades. I remember the retrospective of Salvador Dali held in London during the summer of 2001 – his beautiful, whimsical and bizarre images were interspersed with copious handwritten text and notes that were as visually pleasing to a non-Spanish speaker as his paintings and drawings. 

I am fascinated by writing and painting because I kamma-kamma do both myself and as Siamese twins I cannot find the beginning or the end of either, so intertwined and intimately involved they are with each other … and with me.

I wonder what comes first to a child? Sounds and song or the image of a mother leaning over the cot?

I suspect I started off life as a picture scribbler. I made stokmannetjies on any surface I could find: walls, tiles, floors, blotting paper, sand, cake dough – anything would do. Then crayons, pieces of charcoal from a braai, snapped-off sticks, burnt heads of matches, black koki for marking clothes and Bic ballpoint pens that left your hands covered in ink were the most common media and I could never ever listen to anyone in class – not even at university level – without drawing. “Doodling” would be closer to the truth – it calmed me down, and made me capable of actually listening to whoever was talking. Today I hear children are given Ritalin to achieve the same results; they should rather give them a big bag of kokis and a sheet of newsprint. This penchant for doodling came from no-where familial. No member could draw, nor did I receive any lessons in this except for the poster paint disasters one did at school with forty other naughty children, but it was always the illustrations in books that made me soar, float away to another world, be it Alice, the books of Dickens, the Famous Five series of Enid Blyton, amongst many others. Then there were the accessible prints of Tretchikoff and other lesser mortals in the homes of aunts and friends, but by the age of six the written word, the quieter of the twins, gave my doodling a go. I had to read. Anything would do. Newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes, signages on shops, manuals to washing machines, school libraries, adult books on the top shelf. Even DH Lawrence read skelmpies, having no idea what he was talking about half the time, but it was less the content than the actual words themselves. I would do a solo queue at the out of bounds school library during break time until a passing teacher softened and unlocked the door to paradise and it was in standard two that I discovered, as with my pictures, that this – what I was reading – could also be done by me. So I wrote my first play. I didn’t know how to, but with youthful enthusiasm I wrote, not just one but three and being true to my precocious, voor-op-die-wa nature, as always, I had them performed by friends, the performing troupe donating the sum of the entrance fee, a whole ten rand, to charity. I had found out by accident that the written word, when spoken, had power. Then, in standard four, a teacher brought a beautiful print (I now think it to be a Turner landscape) to class and we had to respond in words and I could not sleep that night, so enamoured was I with the words in my head that could mirror and transcend the exquisite scene before me. I came back to class the next day and recited my epic poem out of my head as I had rehearsed it through the night.

Words and images unlocked the sluice gates to my private world of imaginings.

I had not only discovered the power of the word – I had also discovered the power in myself to create something that had never existed before. Perhaps being the third child of four, it gave me a sense of omnipotence, of my own identity, undefined by others above and below me.

So what are the differences then if the process and discipline of creating is so similar?

Jenny Aglow in her small book entitled Words & Pictures says it so well, “A picture, a painting, an image captures a moment and holds it; its perpetual present at odds with the flow of narrative or orderly description. We see the whole but then look at the parts, putting them together in different ways.”

And yet they come from the same place, says Louis van Vuuren in the catalogue to his latest exhibition “Things remembered and things desired”.

And can one be said to be the superior of another? Does Tolstoy’s War and Peace supercede Picasso’s Guernica in genius, in its ability to awe and entertain, and thrill and move us through the whole gamut of emotions and, like all great art, give us new insights?

Antjie Krog, and I quote her liberally from a radio interview, says that poetry leads us to live with heightened awareness, but so does a painting of Van Gogh when we stand before it and marvel – no landscape can ever be viewed again with the same eyes.

I find that word and image are inextricably linked, like sinew and bone. They are in dialogue and yet their language of communication is coded differently – a word is more and less than an image and vice versa. As Alice in Wonderland says, “And what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?”

Together they are greater than the individual sum, as each offers its own unique perspective on the diverse experience we call life and our striving to make sense of it, to hold it for a moment in our hands and know, if only partially: writing and painting bring me a little closer to that and so I ride them like an acrobat rides horses at the circus, one foot planted on the back of one and the other foot on the other, while chasing around the arena at top speed, trying to keep my balance, enjoying the wider view from up there.