So, why did you first decide to carve art out of books?
Why books? Why anything? I did not choose books. It is my belief that art is born out of an oracle. Something bumps into your face and forces you to consider it. It opens your eyes. You can invoke the Oracle but you can never provoke it. I could give you a hundred reasons why this happened in my life. But as the Biblios, the little people that lived in books, said: explanations are just explanations.
What’s your favourite type of book to use for your creations? Are antiques better than a unbroken paperbacks?
Old books are more beautiful than new ones. Also they have the shelf life in them, the companionship with so many readers, or maybe just one. But anyway they had a life and now it's time to give them a second one.
Brown from Guan Yin
Your work is so intricate and detailed. It must take you a very long time. What is involved in the process of making one piece?
There are the field trips, where I develop a close relationship with landscape. Peru, Brazil, the American West, the Canadian Rockies, the Alps, now Ecuador, or maybe the flat plains or small round hills of Quebec where I live. Then the Oracle is invoked by opening the actual books that I am going to sacrifice, because indeed this is what it is; a sacrifice on the altar of art. Opening the books, feeling them, letting them away, returning. Then I go in the wild and I stand naked when the moon is full (lol). Then I am ready to enter the studio.
In the studio, nothing complicated. It’s one, two, three, four. The chainsaw, the carbide burs - so many tools that it would bore you to death. The technical part is so little in the process anyway. But the aim dictates everything. I have to enter into contemplation once the piece is finished. You have to enter the metaphor; no longer a book, not yet a real landscape. A bookscape.
You create only landscapes. Why?
Why not? People asked me to do their dog, their favourite religious monument or church...this is not about virtuosity or saying something. The beauty in landscape is that is does not say anything. It is not trying to convince you of anything. And yet, it does something to you. It kills you; it kills the feeling that you are separate from the rest of the world.
The Web from The Great Wall
Your explanations about each project are pretty deep and meaningful. Are you emotionally invested in each one? If so what do they give you?
It is not about emotion. It looks like emotion, because most often it is the only thing we know outside the intellect. But outside the cognitive and the emotional lies a third region of consciousness that the West is losing sight of; contemplation.
But of course, these regions are not separate and yes, there is still a figment of emotion in each work. These works exist because art leaves me no choice. I have to put my life on the line. People think making art is a beautiful activity. It is sometimes. But to me, it goes from crisis to crisis. Life crisis, I mean, where I don't know anything anymore. Very hard to bear, you can't imagine. Nothing is ever certain. Part of the emotional turmoil of these crises certainly finds its way to the work.
There are distinctive elements of religion and ancient traditions in your work. Where did this stem from?
I always felt that the ancient is closer to truth than the new. As the contemporary Zen master Robert Aikens once said, “it is through the old that you access the timeless, the dimension that is neither old nor new”.
Unknown from The Great Wall
Carving art into books is not your only medium. What is your favourite form of expression?
My favourite form of expression is the form of the moment. I have a strong inkling towards painting. I like to think that all this comes from my love affair with painting. But this is like asking what my favourite piece is. Someone once asked me what that was and I answered that it is like trying to answer which of your children you prefer. The interviewer retorted that people do have their favourite kid. I answered, "But they don't tell".
What’s next for you? Do you have plans to make a giant book sculpture perhaps? A literary landscape within a real one?
My next project is to learn to live outside projects. A very paradoxical project indeed, but how beautiful would it be to be free of that sickness, don't you think?
Ryoanji from The Great Wall
You can see more of Guy Laramee’s work here