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Lucy Raverat on Her Joyce-Inspired Art

By Lesley THulin | August 15, 2013
Good Morning James

Although James Joyce's novels have been noted for their musicality and practically beg to be read aloud (think the sirens episode in “Ulysses,” or really any portion of tongue-twister “Finnegans Wake”), a new exhibit at the Francis Kyle Gallery showcases visual interpretations of the Modernist master's literature.

“Jumping for Joyce: Contemporary painters revel in the world of James Joyce,” which runs until Sept. 25, includes he work of more than 20 artists. Since the exhibit features an overwhelming number of paintings inspired by “Ulysses.” I was intrigued by the only one that, as far as I could tell, braved an interpretation of “Finnegan’s Wake”— Joyce’s elusive final novel that has inspired scholars to pen their own skeleton keys.

I talked with the artist, Lucy Raverat, about her three contributions to the exhibit and how consciousness “doesn't give a s--t” about plot in “Finnegan’s Wake.”

Lesley Thulin (LT) Can you tell me about the process of painting “riverrun,” “Molly Bloom’s dilemma,” and “Good morning, James”.

Lucy Raverat (LR) I’m not actually a very literary person — I mean, I do read. I kind of dipped into it, but I didn't read “Ulysses.” from beginning to end. I could quickly see that the way Joyce writes is, he just kind of mixes everything up into a great big soup. He takes ideas from everywhere and mixes it all up. He takes ideas from all kinds of different times, so time doesn’t really start in one place and go through, continuously. He takes everything all at once.

So, for my style of painting, that seemed to suit me very well, because I don’t like to take an idea and put it into my mind and then illustrate. That’s not the way I work. So the way I work is to simply… I just paint and see what happens.

Molly Bloom's Dilemma

LT What do you see as Molly Bloom’s dilemma?

LR That’s more or less from her soliloquy at the end of the book. There’s a bit where she’s lying in bed and just all these different things are coming into her head, drifting through, and she is talking about her life in a very free and easy way. Things that are important to her are all mixed up with completely small things — just things that are happening in her day — and the painting I did was really about that. It’s about the strange little pathways that everybody’s life is taking. It seems to be going from A to B, but these pathways are very random and can be going from anywhere to anywhere.

LR And so for Molly’s dilemma, it’s just about these odd trains of thought that seem to travel that seem to shut her up in different directions and crossover and mix up. Some are beautiful and some aren’t. It’s really just about the randomness of a mind, really... of all the circumstances that come together that get that human being to be that human being.

LT Could you tell me about “ Good morning, James” ?

LR It’s the most figurative of the paintings that I put in there. His [Francis’] gallery is quite a figurative gallery. So, I just took the feeling of Dublin, which, if you notice in that painting, there’s a skylight above the door. In Dublin, a lot of the doors have that sort of Georgian feature. It’s just imagining James and his life in Dublin, getting up in the morning and then he’s going to write his book. He’s tapping into this kind of great sea of thoughts.

LT I’d also like to ask you about “ Finnegan’s Wake.” The book is notoriously difficult.

LR Yeah.

LT Did you read it in its entirety?

LR I have read it. I didn’t read it this time, but I have, a long, long time ago. But I just dipped into it this time and remembered. That’s where “riverrun” comes from, actually.


LT Right.

LR In fact, he spelled it wrong. It should be spelled with a small “R” and it should all be one word. So the idea in that is loosely connected to something that’s got nothing to do with James Joyce. We were just recently in India for the Kumbh Mela. You know what the Kumbh Mela is?

LT Is that when millions of people bathe in the Ganges?

LR Yeah. It’s a huge, huge meeting. It’s the biggest meeting of human beings on the planet. It’s like 15 million people come together at a certain time to bathe in the Ganges in this month which is auspicious. We went to see that. I was still, at the time, thinking about the Joyce show, and it occurred to me that “Finnegan’s Wake” and the Ganges — there’s a lot going on. The way that Joyce treats his writing, and “Finnegan’s Wake”, in particular, and he treats the Liffey— the river that runs through Dublin— you could connect it with the Ganges. The Ganges has a physical aspect, but in Indian spirituality, has another thing… The place where the Kumbh Mela happens is actually the meeting of three rivers. And one of them is the invisible river— the Sarasvati. So the most auspicious place to bathe is this place where the invisible river rises. And that is because this meeting of rivers symbolizes in each human being the place where our humanness can come into touch with something much more universal, which is what I think James Joyce is doing in “Finnegan’s Wake”. He’s using the Liffey in the same way as the Ganges is represented in Indian thought.

LT Is that why you decided to focus on that one word, “riverrun”?

LR I find that that’s what the whole book is all about. All of the stuff that a life contains, which is all of the thoughts, all of the people, all of the actions, everything that goes up to make a life actually is flowing into this river which is a river of consciousness, you could say.

LT Some people say that “Finnegan’s Wake” lacks a plot. What's your take on this?

LR I think that it is completely without a plan, and that plans are human-made things, and consciousness doesn’t give a s–t about plans. Plans have got nothing to do with life. Plans happen within life, not the other way around. So, in that way, I think James Joyce is right. It’s all completely random and you can't get a hold of it, either. It’s just escaping in all directions. And to try to keep it going in all direction is a bit of a human mistake.

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