• Betty Bastai

There Will Always Be Paper Books in Tim's House

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

I met installation artist Tim in the early 1990s at Monimail Tower Project, a rural community nested in a picturesque corner of Fife, Scotland. Since I moved to the United States in 2001 we have been keeping in touch via e-mail and occasional Skype calls. He is well known in Scotland for his large-scale multimedia installations that he creates in collaboration with other artists like composer Michael Nyman and musician Goldie. His most ambitious work to date is The Fragments Project that took him and his team two years to complete. The conclusion of the project was performed live at Glasgow cathedral in 2014. Recently he has created a series of installations that sprang from collaboration with an astronomer of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St. Andrews. In 2017 he met astronomers of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey during an astronomy conference in Santiago Chile, and was invited to be the artist in residence for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at the telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. He was planning to premier a film at Las Cruces Space Festival last April but the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

I have always been impressed with Tim’s fervent creative imagination, his enthusiasm to collaborate with other artists and community members and his love to push his artistic vision to an intriguing next level. I am very grateful that when I moved to the United States he agreed to keep some of the books that I had collected while living in Scotland. I do miss them, but I know that they are in very good hands.

Betty Bastai: In one of your recent e-mails you wrote: “I love books with a passion.” Can you explain how you developed this passion?

Tim Fitzpatrick: I guess having access to books as a child was important and habit forming. They could convey very simple and elementary ideas (as they should for very young children) but I certainly responded to strong visual references and a bit of anarchy would also go down well. I say this because I’m mostly thinking of the books by Dr Seuss and, in particular, ‘The cat in the Hat.’ It was a book that challenged all the rules and seemed to suggest that an independence of mind could actually be ok. Very challenging to my parents but revolutionary to me.

What type of books do you read?

I read all sorts of books but I must admit to being very partial to biographies. It could also be an autobiography but I think that separating the subject and the author tends to work best. Like most folks I’m sure that I have my heroes and whilst I can enjoy the things they have done - like the music they have written or the films they have made - I’m always incredibly curious to know what made them tick, why they did the things they did and how they managed it. I guess that I am fascinated by people and their own particular paths through life.

In your artwork you use a lot of technology. Have you converted from paper books to e-books?

I have never read an e-book. I don’t even like the idea. Irrational on my part probably.

What is the relationship between your artwork and books?

I get ideas from books and I get inspired by books. A tiny germ of a thought might so easily be triggered by just one line from a book. I always keep lots and lots of notebooks and those notebooks will have lots of quotes that I have come across in various books.

Falling Back Down Again

You are a father of three children and have been homeschooling them since the Scottish public schools were shut down last March. Are they following your footsteps and filling their bookcases with paper books or are they avid e-book readers?

My eldest cannot stop talking about His Dark Materials, which she has just discovered. Interestingly she saw a feature film first which gave her the initial interest and then she saw the TV series which she said was so much better than the film and finally she found the book trilogy which she said “blew everything else away.”

My middle child is completely hooked on the Japanese Manga books. As they are basically comic books he gets through them at a tremendous rate and so when we head out to buy new ones (or online) he needs to buy them in armfuls. He also enjoys the fact that they now take up such an impressive amount of space on all of his shelves - and increasingly around the floor. He also gets a lot of pleasure if I show any interest and therefore giving him an excuse to explain lots of the plots and characters.

My youngest is into a series of books about a witch. She has always been intrigued by the idea of special characters with special powers. She has a book, which she has treasured since she was about 2 and it is actually a book that was yours: the Collins Italian-English book of translation. I think she originally took to it because it is very small and green (for some reason the colour green has always had a big significance for her). She has always referred to it as her book of spells and I think that she is very drawn to the words which are in Italian and which she regards as some kind of secret and magical language. She keeps the book in a special box.

Have you heard of the organization called Little Free Library? Are there any little free libraries in Fife?

It sounds like a great idea but I’m afraid that I haven’t heard of this in Fife.

Has social distancing and the closure of public libraries made you think about your book collection in a different way than before?

I don’t think so. I’m afraid that I don’t really use libraries that much although I have occasionally borrowed books when my kids were younger and I took them to the library. It’s maybe a bad thing to admit to but I do like owning books - something to do with the fact that they are always there when I might need them. This might be because most of them are non-fiction so I might be thinking of a special collection of poetry or a catalogue of an art exhibition. I do occasionally like fiction too although I wouldn’t be too bothered about keeping it, unless it was what you might call a classic. I keep all of the works by Virginia Woolf for that very reason - and because she just might be my greatest hero.

What book are you reading now?

Right now I am reading a sort of biography about the curator Bryan Robertson by Andrew Lambirth. Again I am really drawn to the subject matter: a curator who arguably changed the face of contemporary art in Britain in the second half of the 20th century in his role as curator of the Whitechapel Art Gallery - appointed at the age of 27! He was the curator who first brought the likes of Rothko, Pollock and Motherwell to the UK and suddenly drew huge and excited audiences to an art gallery, which had never seen anything like it before.

You have an extensive book collection. Is there a particular book that has risen to the rank of being a favorite?

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. I wouldn’t say that this is my favourite book but that’s because I don’t have one. If I was trying to save books from a fire this would be one of them – if that’s another way of putting it.

(Photos by Tim Fitzpatrick and Whin)

Thank you very much Tim for taking time out of your busy schedule as a father and as an artist who is always in the midst of concocting and developing new, complex art projects. I enjoyed knowing more about your relationship with books. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that your youngest child took possession of a little green book full of Italian words and treasures it as if it’s a gift from a witch.

You can view Tim’s artwork here: https://www.timfitzpatrick.co.uk/

Are you an artist and a parent and would like to share your thoughts about books, art making, and raising kids? Log in and leave a comment here.

Happy reading and have fun with your children!

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