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  • Writer's pictureIoana Pioaru

'Literary Houses' - a story of art and literature

Many of the drawings in my art portfolio are linked to and inspired by literature. I call these drawings 'Literary Houses'. The stories of the great authors who lived in these houses, the books they wrote whilst living there, the fabulous tales that the houses inspired, these are all so fine, so precious, so famous, that I never thought there was any point in sharing with you the story of why I’m actually so passionate about this subject.

This is as much a story about a drawing project, as it is one about myself. It took some courage to get it out because I gave up writing a while ago, as I've been putting all my effort and confidence in my art. You know what they say - an image is worth a thousand words. But the funny thing is that those thousand words are a little bit different for everyone.

ink drawing of restoration house also known as satis house in great expectations by dickens
Satis House, from 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I was sure that my future would be, in some way or other, connected with writing. I was studying English language and literature in a small-town high-school in Romania. The bit of English most of my colleagues and I knew before entering that rather prestigious school had been gathered from watching Cow & Chicken and MTV, so – vaguely conversational. Academic - not so much.

Right from the beginning of my first year, our English teacher started asking (and by ‘asking’, I mean forcing) us to read English Classics in original. We were meant to do the reading as homework and discuss it in class. She began the torment, as one would, with Geoffrey Chaucer. I tried to read ‘The Canterbury Tales’, I swear I did, but I couldn’t make head or tail of a single sentence. Not one of us could!

ink drawing of anne hathaway's tudor cottage
The Cottage of Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare's wife, protagonist of Maggie O'Farrell's novel 'Hamnet'

At first we thought she was joking, but nope. A test followed within a week and we quickly realised that this was serious. The only way to have anything to ‘discuss’ in class OR to pass the class altogether, was to read the Romanian translations of those mighty books from that most distinguished foreign land. Thank God for translators.

If the teacher ever realised how we got our 'information', she never said anything. In retrospect, those discussions we had about the books were utter garbage, but good fun nonetheless. Maybe that was the teacher's plan all along: simply to get us to read.

And boy did we read! And boy did I love it! Shakespeare, Austen, Hawthorne, Dickens, Hardy, Salinger, Woolf, you name it! During those four years of high-school, while learning to speak some decent form of English, I was devouring English and American literature by the bucketload!

ink drawing of bateman's surrounded by dry flowers, notebooks and pens
Bateman's, Rudyward Kiplings' Jacobean house in East Sussex

Fast forward a few years and ✨abracadabra✨ I am a full-time artist (how did that happen? A story for another time…) but unable to shake the feeling of that parallel universe where I kept to the path of literature and made a career of it, a path that for so long seemed to be my destiny. Had I made the right choice? Was there a way to stay in touch with the other, bookish, me? A way to keep her present in my life?

This is the solution I found. Well, two solutions:

  1. Keep on reading! (go back and tackle those originals. Yes, audiobooks count!), and

  2. Make art out of her/my love of literature. Sure, it won’t be ‘academic’, it may not even be too smart, but it will be beautiful, and it will be honest, because it will come from our shared heart.

ink drawing of the bronte sisters and their home, with a rose-themed ornamental border, in a black frame, surrounded by dry flowers
The Brontë Sisters and the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire

In November this year, it's been eleven years since I moved to England.

I came here with a head full of literary references and with a romanticised idea of England so deeply engraved in my mind by the books I read, that 'the news' almost didn't matter. I saw beauty and charm and something to wonder at in every street corner, at every step. Reality might have been a wake-up call, had I not been so enchanted by the places and the people described in those most beloved books.

So, instead of a disappointment, present-day England was a confirmation that at least some of the beauty, the charm, the wit and the goodness lived on, adapted and adopted; it continued to inspire and shape the contemporary. In a sense, that's what I find most amazing about great works of art, whether visual, literary, musical, architectural - no matter how old, they are topical and relevant still, their timelessness integrates with the pulse of the present, and they speak to us so clearly over the centuries.

This is why my old-architecture- or old-literature-inspired drawings are not, as one might think, a nostalgic yearning for days gone by, but a celebration of the eternal conversations between generations.

cluster of traditional ink drawings of literature-related architecture
'Literary Houses', (2021) ink drawing series

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