Marta Chudolinska Interview

Marta Chudolinska is the artist behind the new linocut novel, Back + Forth, which launches tonight at Toronto’s McNally Robinson Bookstore, 1090 Don Mills Road at Lawrence, 7PM to 8PM. The book is published by Porcupine’s Quill and is part of their new graphic novel line.

A recent grad of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and a student of woodcut artist George Walker, Marta was kind enough to answer a few questions for Sequential:

Can you talk a bit about your OCAD experience, being taught by George Walker, his influence, and genesis of the book?

Working and studying with George has always been an extreme pleasure. From the first lecture of the first class, I knew that he was special. Not many profs put sound effects into their presentations! That small example expresses a lot about George. He has an energy for art and books and life that is absolutely infectious. There are people who believe in life and are able to manifest their dreams and desires. George Walker is one of those people and he leads by example. He is also an extremely generous teacher. He gives so much of his time and care to his students. I think a lot of OCAD print students have benefited from his warmth.
In that first class, which looked at the book as an art object, I created a wordless book of linocuts with 16 prints (In a way, Back + Forth picks up where this book left off). In my last year at OCAD, I asked George to be my advisor for an independent study course where we would determine the parameters of the course. I was very interesting in creating a graphic novel, but I imagined a more conventional style and format: a hand-inked comic featuring words.
It was at this point that George introduced me to the idea of working with Tim Inkster of the Porcupine’s Quill, who had just started to publish a series of wordless novels created in the tradition of 19th century printmaking. I made the novel over a period of eight months, starting slow and doing most of the work in the last two harrowing months. I would have occasional meetings with George to check in and get feedback on the story’s development. The course itself was only a half credit but after preparing, cutting and printing 90 linocuts, it ended up being more work than the rest of my entire senior year! Work well worth doing, of course.

Can you extrapolate on how the experience of moving between two cities suggested time travel to you and how this in turn became a theme in your book?

Traveling has been a very important act in my life and the journeys I’ve taken have really shaped me as a person. When I moved to Vancouver in my first year of university, it was as if I had created a brand new life for myself. This new life had no connection to my life back home and I was free to create it, and the image of myself, as I pleased. While at first, this left me feeling exhilarated and liberated, it eventually wore me out. Trying to synthesize in my mind these two identities I had created left me feeling a bit crazy, to be honest!
The stories from Back + Forth are loosely based on two periods of my life that were particularly important to my development. There was something that intrigued me about interweaving these two times together, in order to create a contrast and to use these (painful) experiences to learn something about myself. Though I was constantly diligent on how certain images may be interpreted, I made this book primarily for myself, as a way to understand.
As my close friends may know, I am absolutely obsessed with the idea of time travel and time itself. Maybe I’ve had too much postmodern education, but it makes no sense to me to see time as a linear path. While things may seem to happen in a particular order, the way we experience or organize our memories about our past is closer to chaos.

There’s a link to a Frans Masereel site on your blog. Do you think that there is something about our current time that makes the creation of wordless picture novels particularly apt? Why this format? What’s its appeal to you?

While doing research for this project, I went to the Toronto Reference Library, which has an incredible art room where you can request to view items from their rare book collection. There I was able to handle and read beautiful old copies of wordless novels produced in the early 20th century, mostly by Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. These books really spoke to me as a lover of visual narratives. Not depending on words, Masereel especially was able to produce characters and images that none the less screamed with meaning. He was tapping into a way of expressing emotion that is beyond language, something that does not need to be translated. There is a primal appeal to it. It also forces the reader to work harder to understand and to use their imagination to smooth out the parts that don’t make sense. Words tend to pin things down more precisely. Not using them frees up the interpretation of the story, allowing readers to incorporate their own experiences.
I have always loved comics in their every shape and form, from my brother’s X-Men to the sexist tales of Archie and friends, to instructional comics in my school textbooks. I have read just about every graphic novel at my local library, on just about any subject, in just about any style. I have such a hunger for this stuff, and I’ve been really happy to see in recent years that the market and demand for graphic novels has ballooned and there is more out there for me to savour. I think as we become more sophisticated at reading images, we can handle more complex and non-traditional presentations of narrative.