High Wire Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod Massey University Press 2020
Massey University has launched the kōrero series of picture books for adults – a series of collaborations where ‘two different kinds of artistic intelligence’ work on a shared topic.
The first collaboration links author Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod.
After Lloyd invited Euan to the bridge project, Euan drew and sketched profusely. Lloyd mused upon the crisscrossing bridges that constitute a life, and the way such structures lift you above the mundane. But then his musings changed:
But soon the heady ideas I had about bridges began to collapse. Where I had been, others had. The commonality of experience breathed its deflating air. As exhilarating as it had been to walk across Golden Gate Bridge or to soar above Sydney Harbour or to flit across the modest rainbow from child hood, my footsteps fitted neatly into others’: my beating heart fell in with theirs.
Bridges became high wire.
With High Wire you enter a collaboration that is glorious at every level: the words, the images, the ideas, the feelings. It is a book that saturates you in wonder and, as reader, I contemplate, observe, sidetrack. I had thought about interviewing both Lloyd and Euan, but the book is so powerful, so haunting, I want to celebrate that. Keep room for the unsaid, the enigma, the openings.
To begin with I am mindful of the beauty, the vistas and heights that bridges might deliver but then, as Lloyd abandons his first musings and settles on the high wire, I am lodged in the terrain of vertigo, fear, death, exhilaration, memory, wobbliness.
Euan’s initial drawings resemble subconscious scrawls steered by predetermined subject matter (an oxymoron?). I can’t stop looking at them. I can’t stop turning the pages as the opening light and airiness hit the dark. The thicker wedges of ink and line draw me in and then switch back to an enigmatic wash of light, a sudden and surprising flash of colour. Euan’s kinetic sketches are as much about the maker as they are the subject. I read them as a piece of music. Again an oxymoron, as all senses are lit. More than anything, I relish the musical flow. Art as music as feeling as idea in a tempo-ed move between light and dark, thin and thick, space and density. The high-wire figures – scrawled and ink washed – are a catalogue of human emotion. Think intimacy, think vulnerability, think daring. Think astonishing!
This is gut wrenching stuff. It is a book you feel before you move on and speculate. I find myself thinking about art, heights, tightrope walkers, childhood, people leaping from the flaming Twin Towers, struts and balancing acts. I get to the drawing ‘hold your nerve’ and it seems prescient.
Adjacent to each image is the writing – tightrope writing – where the author opens himself up, testing where he places the next foot so to speak. At one point he writes:
In the subconscious everything is up for grabs – there is no enforced geographical isolation. There are no trespass notices.
Again I am pondering the degree to which the subconscious steers the predetermined subject matter – to the way a sense of risk and challenge is heightened in the state of writing. I could have asked Lloyd this if I had interviewed him, but I remember he once told me his novels are guided by the unknown and discovery.
I don’t need to know how this book came into being – I want to navigate its existence in as many ways as possible. That makes it a book of returns.
On a pragmatic level you could stick with the simple premise that this is a book about a narrator walking to Australia on a high wire! Or the story of Philippe Petit who walked a high wire between the Twin Towers in 1974. Ah but this is a book of so many crossings, crisscrossings and possibilities, both physical and ethereal. At one point we meet the saddest bridge in the world. It is a bridge that is as much about disconnection as it is connection.
Lloyd muses on the bridges between random things as Bill Gates had imagined. So now, having stalled on this opening on the page, the bridges between me reading and my own random things are spiked into view by the book. How do I dare? How do I dare? How do I dare? How do I cross the vertigo-inducing gap between here and there? As reader? As writer? As human being?
What would the world be like without bridges? Lloyd asks. I carry that question as I follow the drawings again.
Lloyd weaves together the mysterious and the physical: to the point a sentence becomes luminous. Haunting.
A dark wriggle in the lunar surface of the sea turns yellow as the cloud passes and the moon reappears. To the west, the steady light of an aeroplane on its direct and patient course.
I love this book for so many reasons: because of its fertility for both heart and mind, because images and words speak to each other without taking a privileged position, because human experience is made complex and absorbing.
I don’t see this as a graphic novel – I see it as a book of connections born out of collaboration. An adult picture book. Massey University Press has created an exquisite book – the paper a perfect hue and texture. A gorgeous object to hold. High Wire is bookmaking at its very best. I recommend it highly and I can’t wait to read the next one.
Massey University Press page
Launch video (an excellent lockdown launch)