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To paint your way across

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod

Massey University Press, 2020

Reviewed by Maeve Hughes

High Wire is the first picture book in Massey University Press’ new ‘kōrero’ series, a project which invites two different kinds of artistic intelligence to present text and image in exciting new ways. For this first book author Lloyd Jones puts forth a series of prose pieces and artist Euan Macleod a series of drawings.

Jones, in New Zealand, starts his narration in a conversational tone, like an email to an old friend, while from a hammock in Australia Macleod begins drawing to bridge the gap. Together they create a ‘high wire’ across the Tasman.

Macleod’s drawings are varied; some are quick sketches while others are slow paintings. They resemble a changing sky as if holding the weather above the Tasman Sea. Among the strongest images is one of male figures standing on a plank high in the sky, looking down on a smoking volcano. It captures a feeling I have only ever felt in a dream – flying through the sky and clinging on to a rope.

Jones’ words are poetic as he trudges along the bridge of the book, placing each word in front of himself as a footing for each step. The story arc is held up by pillars of anecdotes: recollections of early encounters with crossings, musings on the psychic distances which can stretch between two people and the tension of the story: what it is to paint your way across.

There is a kindness in the space the two artists give each other – space for their words and colours to meet. Macleod’s scribbles, in what sometimes appears to be a ballpoint pen, do jarr when placed next to the carefully considered words of Jones. Like watching a six year old and a two year old perform a recital before the fireplace. The six year old (Jones) is aware of their performance and holds themself with poise, while the toddler (Macleod) fizzes and pops for nothing but the joy of it. At other points the words that Jones includes are light and brief, scribbles of thought, while Macleod’s evocative paintings fill up a space in the mind much vaster than the size they hold on the page.

Illustrations © Euan Macleod, 2020


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