Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In a World of Our Own Making

{drawing by pixelgraphix}

Having spent the past two years in "recovery ride" mode, at the start of 2016 I finally feel... well, more or less recovered! Creatively I am on surer footing and have a better sense of direction. It has also, I think, only now truly sunk in that my move to Ireland is permanent and real, rather than some bizarre dream I am about to wake up from. As a result I've been less tentative in making connections, less reluctant to plan. And in the coming months I look forward to several new projects that I'm either starting myself, or am taking part in.

One of these is the Slí na gCopaleen festival, which I feel exceptionally lucky to be helping to organise. Translatable roughly as "na gCopaleen's way," the festival's name is a reference to one of the pseudonyms of the Irish writer Brian O'Nolan, aka Flann O'Brien - author of that bicycling metaphysics bible, The Third Policeman. It was just over two years ago now that I read this book (see: Is This About a Bicycle?) and fell in love. I fell in love not only with the author's writing, but also with his unique ability to shape language to accommodate his ideas, rather than allowing for the more usual, reverse, relationship between the two. Well, I won't get too deep and analytical in this wee bicycling blog, but anyway: There is a Flann O'Brian festival in Donegal coming up, and it will be lovely, and free to attend, and will feature dinner talks and live music and a themed bicycle ride, and if you would like to join us check the website for info and updates.


Among the things I have enjoyed while involved with this event, has been working with the excellent Berlin-based illustrator Manuela Hoffmann - aka pixelgraphix. I "met" Manuela through instagram, where we connected over our mutual love of bicycles and fountain pens. For years I had followed her snaps, and watched her develop as an illustrator. So when several of my own projects required graphics (I draw and paint myself, but illustration is quite different!), I turned to Manuela for her striking pen-and-ink style, as well as for her cyclist's perspective.

Having cycled in central Berlin for years ("messy and cramped infrastructure, but you can get almost anywhere by bike!") Manuela now lives to the south of the city. From there, she often rides to the forest and the Havel lakes - either alone on her Stevens touring bike, or with her family on their PedalPower tandem. The imagery found in her work is much inspired by these trips.

"A lot of my ideas and projects stem from long bike rides where my thoughts are free to ramble about," Manuela tells me. And somehow, looking even at the work where the subjectmatter is seemingly not cycling-related at all, I can sense that.

For the Slí na gCopaleen festival image, I sent Manuela some photos I'd taken and described the look and feel I was going for. I wanted to combine a vast Donegal bogscape, I explained, with a more intimate scene of a bicycle "crouching in wait, expectantly." Undeterred by such a description, Manuela set to work. And after some back and forth feedback, and some closeup shots of "Katy" for reference, the scene I had visualised was brought into existence, as if by magic - complete with expectant crouching.

One interesting thing about the end result illustration, is that the landscape it depicts is ultimately fictional - combining a mountain road in western Donegal with elements of rural County Derry. Even the bicycle is a fiction - the otherwise meticulously replicated Lady's Record anatomically altered into a diamond frame model.

We did these things initially, because we thought it would make for a stronger image. But on reflection, this collaging of geography and objects also serves to reinforce the Flann O'Brien tribute: referencing his life on both sides of the border, and his tendency to morph ideas, concepts, things, before the reader fully grasps what is being done.

The magic of drawing and writing, is the magic of imagination: we can create entire worlds of our own making, willing things into existence that might, strictly speaking, not exist in the exact form or configuration we would like them to.

And in a way I am finding difficult to articulate, there is an element of this same creativity to the act of cycling in itself. The combination of the bicyclist's pace, vantage point, and heightened senses has the effect of loosening the imagination. The winding road ahead becomes our canvas, our blank piece of writing paper. And so we cycle through a world of our own making - in equal measure beautiful and dissonant.

27 comments:

  1. The wolf on the bike image is absolutely fantastic. I will have to buy one of those shirts from her store.

    The festival seems like a fun thing. Hopefully we will see a bit of a report on it, here.





    Wolf.

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  2. I'm so glad you turned us on to Flann O'Brien, I've read "The Third Policeman" 2 1/2 times since and wish there was a "Fourth Policeman" to sit down with. The festival sounds like the best sort of thing, I wish I was within a couple of days ride...

    I've been reading a bunch of Dervla Murphy since you shared "Full Tilt" with us. That was pretty great and so are the other 2 of hers I picked up. Hurry up and find some more good stuff, I'm almost finished re-reading Don Quixote and am going to need something soon.

    Pancho Sanza

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    1. It was a cyclical turn on, as it was readers that introduced me to it in the first place.

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  3. Congratulations on new projects and sense of direction.

    Bringing together seemingly disparate elements and creating a unified whole is always a rewarding challenge. It's always changing as we change and it's why one might want to get up in the morning and get at it again. I don't think it's so much creating an entire world so much as attempting to experience an entire world and sensitize oneself to all the wonderful connections. Agree that drawing (all forms of art) and cycling share a doorway into the unknown.

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  4. The bicycle looks like it's perched and ready but, man, the sideways slope of that road it's about to enter looks tricky!

    Finding graphic work for festivals is not easy. Clearly, you've put a lot of thought into it and I hope it goes well. Our local town, every year, puts on a festival which attracts folks from all over the county. Like I imagine Ireland to be, it's filled with musicians, writers, and artists of all sorts and every year there's a competition for the logo. A theme is given and a winner announced. The wonderful thing is that the artist re-creates their unique vision and experience. All competing entries are exhibited, as well, to go along with the other cultural activities. I like that idea of participation.

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  5. Neat stuff. I keep looking for the hidden gem in the landscape, like in one of Guy Billout's subtler pieces. But the piece itself is the gem.

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  6. I have always been jealous of painters who have only to reference reality rather than be stuck with it as photographers.

    Just a shame about the diamond frame...

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    1. Oh I don't know. Photographers can shape reality to a surprising degree by their compositional choices alone. When I was based in Boston, people used to tell me how lucky I was to live in a city with so few cars! This impression was based on my photos of course.

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    1. I accidentally saw him perform in Westport, Mayo last July!

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    2. Oh good, wasn't sure if you were aware of him.
      Looking forward to next Saturday's gig in Dublin. Will wave in your direction!

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  8. We also cycle through a world literary of our making, at least in the UK. There is little or no true wilderness in the UK anymore. The hilly areas of the north, Peaks, Lakes, Highlands were all once forested, cut down for lumber or charcoal, burned by rival armies, kept clear by sheep. Even those wild Irish bogs have often been managed resources for hundreds of years.

    Hope the festival is a success. I always assume people with my passions share my cultural world view, is obviously nonsense. But it does stop me mentioning things I might feel are must haves, eg Ian Hibbel, but others may be unaware of. Just yesterday I was with some friends who expressed a liking for Kraftwerk, but had never listened to Neu! or Can. Unbelievable in my experience, but truthfully understandable.

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  9. Nice metaphor between cycling and life. Keep going.

    She who endures finds success. Who knows what happiness can lie after adversity and misery?

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    1. Heh. To paraphrase from The Poor Mouth: "...remember that you are a Gael; it isn't happiness that's in store for you!"

      But perhaps, as I am not Irish, there is hope.

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  10. This is more of a private message, but the image you showed reminded me of another graphic designer who bicycles and draws and is smart and insightful. Her book is remarkable, just in case you're looking for other illustrators, I thought I'd share…..http://www.sbinderdesigns.com/SBD-Travels-RTWVideo.html….best to you.

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    1. Thanks! Posting your comment as others might be interested also.

      Another cycling illustrator to consider is of course bikeyface.
      And Kristofer Henry is excellent for logos (made the LB banner).

      Personally, I think Spindizzy ought to take it up as well, considering.

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    2. Interesting to see Spindizzy outside of the tantalising descriptions of his many bicycles.

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  11. I knew The Third Policeman would get under your skin, but these has exceeded my expectations. Oh to live traveling distance from the festival!

    Brian

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    1. Indeed! I think Flann O'Brien is also responsible for my learning Irish.

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  12. This site has such engaging visual content it has taken me a long time to realize there are photos of bikes here and drawings of bikes and photos of riders posing with bikes but scarcely any riders riding bikes. That happens here with words but not so much with pictures.

    The first creation of any artist is herself.
    Put yourself in the picture.

    To draw a rider on a bike and make the drawing work you have to understand a lot about motion and a lot about bikes. Even the briefest perusal of Ms. Hoffman's work gives me the chills, she understands so much.

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    1. I appreciate these qualities in the work of others, but myself do not feel compelled to take action photos or to draw cyclists in motion.

      Glad you had such a strong reaction to Manuela's work.

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  13. Just finished The Third Policeman. Wonderful. Thank you for turning me on to this book.

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  14. I went to visit a friend yesterday, and having just finished and thoroughly enjoying The Third Policeman, I took my copy along to lend to him. My friend reads a lot, and a lot of what he reads is what he refers to as "cop sh*t." Detective stories and the like. I put the book on the desk where he was sitting, pointed at the title, and wanting to not give away anything about the book, I told him I had some "c.s" for him. He mumbled something like "Oh, ok," picked up the book and flipped it over to look at the back cover for a few seconds. Then, while looking at the front of the book, he asked, "Is this about a bike?"

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  15. As I am sure you know it is unlikely the bicycle in The Third Policeman was red.

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    1. It is even more unlikely to have been an early 1980s Record... although on second thought neither feature is really outside the realm of that novel's possibilities.

      The more serious incorrectness is perhaps the style of the thatched roof (which, in Donegal, would have been roped and more rounded at the edges).

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