Saturday, July 19, 2014

Deborah Levy and the Essential Obstinacy

In the tenth in a series of posts on 2014 books entered for The Story Prize, Deborah Levy, author of Black Vodka (Bloomsbury USA), talks about finding inspiration in paintings and in animals.

What else (beyond books and writing) informs or inspires your work?
The visual arts continue to be a major inspiration—so much is said with form; from the blast of Matisse and Cezanne, to the surreal narratives of Dorothea Tanning—or the intricate installations of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov who fuse everyday life with mystery and yearning. In this sense I can say that whatever the art form (theatre, film, poetry, fiction, etc), I am always onside with John Cheever who told us that short stories for him were about concepts, dreams, apprehensions, and intuition. 

Woman with Red Cloth 
Anne Rothenstein
I have recently come across the engaging work of the painter Anne Rothenstein. I am intrigued by her preoccupied and fierce sculptural female figures. I make up all sorts of stories for them but I know they don’t really need me to do this. 

I was a Fellow at the Royal College of Art in London, where I taught writing. I always admired the imagination, courage, and essential obstinacy of my students. What I like is that if you are a visual artist and you take no risks at all, you are nothing, you are irrelevant—you might as well just chalk up imitations of old masters on the side walk and hope a few kind people throw coins in to your upturned hat. It would be exciting if this kind of daring and curiosity were valued in mainstream literature too. Is it possible that we are only now becoming contemporaries of James Joyce? Does it matter?

These are genuine questions. I am interested in human consciousness and how we express it. I always want to be entertained enough by any sort of art to look more closely at the world. 

I am also inspired by the beauty and mystery of animals, these amazingly designed creatures with whom we share our planet; their eyes and breath and how we communicate with them. I admit I like the furry ones best and don’t mind at all on vacation when the street cats in Greece sit on my feet in a taverna on the beach.