The Really Scary Gifts of Shiva

by John Scott
ISBN: 1552450910

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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 infected"

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 strange world.

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