A masterclass with Shaun Tan

Those pillows were definitely not necessary. Or perhaps the couple in Shaun Tan’s audience last night had been shopping?

The word masterclass makes me suspect that whatever is coming will be boring. But I didn’t for a moment think Shaun would be, and he wasn’t. In fact, I almost wish more events were done in this way. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can.

Charlotte Square’s Corner Theatre was almost full to bursting. I was glad to see Mal Peet there, making up for missing the other Aussie earlier on. Nikki Gamble was there, but Andersen’s Clare was stuck on the train home and was devastated to miss Shaun.

I occasionally worry that I shouldn’t use words like weird in connection with this marvellous – but weird – artist and author, but he used it himself. So that’s all right, then. Shaun had a presentation on his Mac, which he described as ‘very weird stuff, somewhat autobiographical’. As Janet Smyth who introduced him said, it’s been a good year for Shaun. He won an Oscar for The Lost Thing, and then there was that pile of money from Sweden, which now that I think of it, isn’t nearly large enough for Shaun’s talents.

He usually imagines himself talking to his brother, who has a ‘radar for pretentiousness’, and this decides how Shaun describes things. His mother is responsible for the phrase ‘it’s a cultural thing’ which I have recently adopted, because it is so useful. And it’s his architect father who inspired his style of drawing.

Shaun often kicks off with Eric, the tale about the foreign exchange student. It seems they once had an ‘Eric’ themselves, and he was Finnish. That’s why he didn’t talk much. The emotion is under the surface, but it is there.

I was struck by the Tove Jansson quality of the picture that stayed as Shaun’s backdrop for most of the talk. More Finnish-ness. Shaun has travelled from dinosaurs at age three via sci-fi and Star Wars at school to books like The Arrival which took five years to make.

Let’s hope that the Astrid Lindgren award money doesn’t go towards a dishwasher. Shaun does his thinking over the washing up, and where would we be if that stopped? Also, he doesn’t like work, so tries to prune as much as he can off potential work before he even begins.

That’s my kind of person!

And so is his art. Except as he said, he leaves enough space in his work for the readers to put themselves there. So maybe it’s just that he has left what I need to make those beautiful books mine.

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3 responses to “A masterclass with Shaun Tan

  1. Weird it may be but also totally recognisable and empathic. I have just discovered him and am smitten but am no spring chicken. No wonder the events were packed with adults so that even the YA tag does not quite hit the mark. Was on my way to Gormengast in London when I stumbled across the gallery showing his work – illustrationcupboard – and was drawn in. Next stop Charlotte Square. All the in-between liminal spaces are illuminated with oxymoronic innocent wisdom. Captivatingly lovely stuff.

  2. I would love to see the exhibition, but suspect I won’t make it to London before the end. In fact, I would love to know where he keeps his dustbin, just so I can rummage for those things he throws away.

  3. Well, at least you can log on to www illustrationcupboard.com and see all his lovely paintings on line including the sagacious water buffalo. I have just ordered The Lost Thing from Australia. Floating, dancing bemused Klee-like creatures from a Boschianesque fantasy world of lost souls dreaming of quirky sublime….can’t wait to see the whole film..to merge with the hovering limboids. Too late to scour dustbin – it has been made into a book as well – The Bird King – such are the perks of fame!! We can now only snoop among the excavated jottings with their author’s explanatory comments.

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