Fact or fantasy? it doesn't really matter when it comes to Shiva's Really Scary Gifts. The legend of John Scott has grown even larger with this funny and sad book about making a life out of art. Being a long-time fan of artist John Scott, I grabbed it thinking, what a wonderful collector's item! Flipping through pages filled with Scott's wanky and exuberant drawings, I didn't give much notice to the text, put off by the "as told to" aspect of the stories.
But writer Ann MacDonald, an ex-student of Scott's at the Ontario College of Art and Design, has done a great job of transcribing the artist's equally wanky and exuberant stories.
She sat Scott down in his favourite tavern with a tape recorder, a pen and a stack of paper napkins and let him loose. His off-the-cuff ink drawings, sometimes smeared by the wet tabletop, feature Scott's big-eared bunnies, strange angels, humanoid rats and schizoid self-portraits. Shiva, the Indian god of entropy or destruction, seems to ride shotgun with Scott. I laughed myself silly over Shiva's Gun-Control Plan.
In her afterword, MacDonald describes finding Scott curled up in bed, seriously ill, with his Governor General's Award around his neck. (He was the first visual artist to be so honoured.) He's wearing it, he tells her, so that if he's found dead they won't think he's a bum.
shiva's really scary gifts by John Scott as told to Ann MacDonald (Coach House), 207 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNN