||A Review of: Shiva∆s Really Scary Gifts
by Peter O'Brien
If Coach House Press did not exist, it would be necessary for
Canadians to invent it. And then the hard part would follow: nurturing
it through the years and the many vagaries of publishing, funding,
ceaseless technological change and what can best be described as
the constant process of redefining beauty.
Since its founding by Stan Bevington in 1965, the press has been a
small company that thinks like a big company. It keeps itself
financially viable, it adapts quickly to changing technology, it
updates its aesthetic mandate as required and it doggedly goes about
doing what it is there to do: publish Canadian books.
As Canadian publishers go, it is also, paradoxically, a relatively
big company that thinks like a micro-company. It produces what it
wants (approximately 500 books since its founding) and lets the
critics and the judgments fall where they may. It is nimble and
adaptable (it sees electronic publishing "not as a marketing
gimmick but as a reality and as a necessity") and it keeps its
cutting edge truly sharp.
Because of their category-defying nature, this book may very well
not have found any other publisher in Canada, and yet it is not
only worthy of being published, but worthy of an attentive and
inquisitive audience willing to be challenged.
John Scott, winner in 2000 of the inaugural Governor General's Award
for Painting, is perhaps best known for his Trans-Am Apocalypse No.
2, a car with the Book of Revelations scratched into its black
surface. If you have never seen that menacing beast parked at the
National Gallery in Ottawa, it's definitely worth a visit. In Shiva's
Really Scary Gifts Scott is at his impetuous and idiosyncratic best.
Known as a compulsive drawer, he can also now be known as a compulsive
storyteller. The text in the book was recited, presumably in ecstatic
fits and starts, and then shaped by artist and writer Ann MacDonald.
It is accompanied by about 100 drawings from cocktail napkins. It's
quite a ride. We follow Scott through his adventures with an amourous
rat; his endless conversations with the police as he tries to secure
a permit so that he can buy a gun for use in his artwork; his
bewildered harbouring of Lester, "the most wanted man on the
planet"; his bout of meningitis; and his experiences of being
hit by lightening, twice. Here is the second time:
"Then, when I was on the roof after Susan's memorial, I noticed
the same smell, which is, as it turns out, ozone. And the next thing
I knew I was lying on the ground. I realized I'd been struck again.
In the head. Luckily, I was wet, which is a real life saver, because
the electricity just passed over the length of my body. But it
struck my left side and blew out a bunch of metal fillings. My
fractured teeth were blown into my tongue, which subsequently got
There are some artists' writings that seem to be the perfect
representation of all artists-a sort of divine synecdoche of the
part representing the whole. This book is not one of those. By turns
hilarious, bizarre in the extreme, frightening (there is one scene
that is the most disturbing thing I have ever read, anywhere), this
book documents the frenetic and obsessive imagination of a very
unique artist. I am left with a feeling for the inevitability of
creativity, the essential hunger for stories, pictures, and
illustrations. Shiva's Really Scary Gifts is the transcription of
a soul in process, documenting itself as it moves through this