Anthropomorphic metaphors

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

The first time I laid eyes on the screen prints of Simon Tozer, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. There’s a quiet joy in his artwork that I find irresistible, as his characters appear to ramble through lives far more colourful than our own.

“I was encouraged to draw by my parents early on,” he remembers. “I think art became an important thing for me as a teenager. At the time I wanted to design album covers and the covers for science fiction novels. When I started an Arts Foundation course, I felt more comfortable with the confused artists rather than the technically skilled and apparently very organised graphic designers.”

Two Lightships by Simon Tozer

Two Lightships by Simon Tozer

Simon focused on painting while studying for a Bachelor of Arts. “After college l moved to Oxford and spent a very unhappy and lonely year working as a gardener and trying to be a painter,” he says.

He soon gave up and got “a normal job”, but the desire to make art remained within him and years later he signed up for evening classes at the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “Partly I liked it because of the friendly other printmakers, but I also realised that I liked drawing more than painting, and print is all about drawing,” he says. “Also, I liked the constraints of print. Painting always felt like an amorphous activity where you can keep changing what you are painting constantly, and there is never a clear point where the picture is finished.”

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

I love the way Simon’s prints resemble scenes in stories, or, stills in quirkily appealing animations. However, he says, his main inspirations are works of art.

“There is a quality of artlessness in some artists’ work which l find inspiring, and energy – energy seems very inspiring,” he comments. “Sometimes it’s subtle like Morandi’s paintings, and sometimes not like Lucien Freud’s. There is a contemporary artist and illustrator called Johnny Hannah who is very inspiring for this quality.”

Quotes can be inspiring as well. “On my studio wall l have a quote from Grayson Perry which goes something like ‘Ideas are like furry creatures, you’ve got to be nice to the first one that comes along, or the others may not come out of the undergrowth.’”

Banger Tryptich by Simon Tozer

Banger Tryptich by Simon Tozer

Simon mentions on his website that he tries “to illustrate human dreams, fears and frailties.” I ask him how his subjects, such as vehicles and bears, help him to achieves this.

“There is a lot of visual metaphor in my pictures, and also a lot of anthropomorphism, so animals and cars are usually really people in another guise,” he says, “For instance in the car pictures, each car is an emotion or an anxiety, and the idea is that they are all in one persons head, in an emotional demolition derby, bashing into each other and causing chaos.”

He adds: “With image of animals there is an extra element, which is that animals don’t speak, and usually pictures don’t speak either, but both have their ways of communicating.”

Unwanted Hair by Simon Tozer

Unwanted Hair by Simon Tozer

Perhaps that’s why many of his works seem to me to reveal a kind of wry, faintly melancholy humour, which is often most visible in the eyes of viewers drawn into the scene. For example, the small owl watching a sorrowful bear contemplate his furry face in Unwanted Hair, or the child staring, apparently aghast, from beneath his umbrella as a woman strides by in her cozzie, in Swimming Club.

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

There’s something about Simon’s prints that opens up conversations – they make you want to smile and share your discovery with other people, not to mention discuss what the rest of the story might be. For Simon, however, the delight is far more visceral.

“I am grateful be able to have the creative freedom to explore my imagination,” he says, “and make something tangible from it, and to be able to work with my hands.”

You can see more of Simon’s work at simontozer.co.uk. His print Mermaid, which originally caught my attention, is on show as part of the 164th RWA Annual Open Exhibition, which is on until 27th November 2016.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

When metaphors come to life

Harriet's catAward-winning short story writer Harriet Kline tells us how and why she likes to use animals as metaphors in her fiction, but warns us that they sometimes they take on a life of their own. 

I talk a lot to my cat. I ask her if she’s having a lovely sleep, or if she knows how beautiful she is. I talk to other animals too. I’ve been known to greet butterflies, thank blackbirds for their songs, hurl insults at flies. Trees, recalcitrant computers, zippers also get comments aimed their way.  I know I’m not the only one. Plenty of people name their cars and tell hamsters not be scared when they lift them out of the cage. Once I heard a woman say to her dog, we’ve talked about this before.

For me, there’s a particular set of feelings that comes with addressing things that won’t reply: A sense of power perhaps, in knowing that my comments will not be contradicted. A sense of foolishness, especially if I’m overheard. And also a sense of creativity. There really is no significance in a fly buzzing at my window or a zip sticking on my favourite dress, but when I speak to these things I fill them up with meaning. I create a relationship with them, through my words. We all do. We gain a sense of ourselves, of where we are in the world by relating to the things around us.

This set of feelings also occurs when I’m writing short stories. I feel powerful, creative and foolish all at once. I believe the link is that as I create a narrative, I simultaneously fill it up with meaning. As the story unfolds, the deeper, metaphorical layer is revealed. So a story about a young woman who finds a ladybird caught in her blouse is really about how she finds a small but gritty determination to survive. A story where three siblings neglect their guinea pigs is really about their unwillingness to admit to any vulnerability in themselves.

Harriet's dog

How it feels to use metaphors in your writing

What really interests me is not simply that I use metaphor as a writer, (many of us do,) but what it actually feels like to do that. I am intrigued by the very moment when something becomes significant. That twinge of self consciousness when I catch myself in the act of appropriating meaning. The pause between addressing the animal and remembering that it definitely won’t reply.

It is this active interface with metaphor, that I wanted to examine in Familiars, my collection of short stories. I wanted to make that moment of self consciousness central to each narrative and explore its effects on a range of protagonists. In some stories the significant animal relationship allows a transformation: A young woman comparing a dog’s whining with her own, comes to accept her feelings of grief.

In others the protagonist resists the moment, refusing to see significance when it is clearly present: A teenage boy is horrified by his sister’s attempts to imbue a robot with character. He insists it can have no feelings because he would rather not to admit to his own. In some stories the moment is fleeting: A woman, unable to express herself honestly is struck by the hideous hawing of a donkey. In others it is stretched into something magical: A mother struggling with feelings of awkwardness transforms repeatedly into a hare.

I chose animals (and a few magically animated objects) for this exploration because I’m certain that the impulse to talk to animals is almost universal. I guessed that the interface between animal, human and meaning is something my readers would recognise. I also suspected that many of us have imagined how the animals might reply.

And it was here that I had the most fun with my writing. What would a cat say if it could speak its mind? How does a ghost dog feel when someone walks through it? I thought it would be difficult to put language into the minds of animals, but what I’ve learned through writing Familiars is that is even more difficult not to. When the cat walks across my notebook as I write, I can’t help imagining her thoughts: Hey, don’t look at the paper, look at me. Or when my friend’s dog brings me a ragged slipper in his jaws it’s impossible not to believe he’s thinking, love me, love me, go on, please. So it was almost a relief to give free rein to this impulse, and create whole narratives from the minds of animals. It was as if the metaphors I had chosen began to take on a life of their own.

And yet, I also wanted to show that this impulse to make meaning is really a human concern. It’s how we connect, how we love and learn, take our place in the world. So I decided that my talking cat would have no reverence for language and less for any moments of significance. Despite her abilities her priorities would still be the food bowl and a warm place to lie in the sun. And by doing this, I hope I was also able to suggest that for humans it is different. Language gives us a richer and more wonderful life. We thrive on stories and metaphors and I believe they are central to our humanity.

Harriet KlineAbout the author

Harriet Kline won the London Magazine Short Story Competition 2013 and the Hissac Short Story Competition 2012. She was highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize 2014 and has been shortlisted and longlisted elsewhere. Two of her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Familiars as a collection is as yet unpublished. You can read Ghost at www.hissac.co.uk/Ghost and and Donkeys at shortstorysunday.comChest of Drawers appears in The London Magazine April/May 2014. Hares appears in Story.Book, Unbound Press and Spilling Ink Review. If you are interested in reading any of the other stories, contact Harriet through her website www.harrietkline.com “and we may be able to come to an arrangement.”