Kitty Crowther´s latest book Mother Medusa will soon be published in Swedish. It´s the story of little Irisée who lives with her overprotected mother Medusa. But Irisée is attracted by the other children and wants to go to school.
Hi Kitty, how did you come up with the idea to Mother Medusa?
I was once working on a big drawing that was to be printed very large so the children could colour it. While you’re drawing/colouring at that size, you get the feeling that you're becoming ‘part of it’.
Then I did a poster… and there was this character who kept coming back.
A young and yet almost old lady. She has this amazing long hair which has this huge capacity of being alive, like a part of her body (her hand or arm) ... but in my head, the story was that it was very tiring to move all that hair.
She looks like a witch, has these catlike eyes, pointed teeth. She is a young woman in the body of an old one; she lived so many lives, but there’s something broken inside. While I write this, I almost feel her presence and I realise how much I love her. In the beginning, I wanted her to live in a cave, with all this algae seaweed as her main comfort. Sand, shells. She has this very ancient world personality. An archaic type.
And I was wondering what her life would be like if she had a little daughter. A little person so charming and so normal. Very polite, very loving, even though her mother is dangerous because life treated her so badly. You see, Medusa is like an alcoholic, a thief, a violent person, or a prostitute (I was thinking of Calamity Jane, who had two children. I also thought of this beautiful book called ‘Letter to my daughter’, even though a lot of people don’t give credit to the authenticity of those letters from Jane’s hand... Still, it’s a beautiful book). We are all responsible for those people who struggle in life. Those borderline types. I get very upset with publicity photos showing the perfect family. There are so many types of family. So why is the one that’s shown always dad/mum/daughter/son?
I was thinking about what makes a mother. Even though some mothers seem to love wrongly, it’s still love. So my Medusa is very possessive towards her lovely daughter because she wants to protect her in the way that she herself hasn’t been protected in her life.
I am also fascinated with Medusa from Greek mythology. I felt a lot of empathy for her and I wondered why! She has this terrible appearance and would let no-one love her. But it’s an upside-down story again; she has been abused by Poseidon (in one version of the myth) and punished by Athena... And so my Medusa is a descendant. (In the myth, Medusa gives birth to Chrysaor and Pegasus from her neck after Perseus beheads her.) And I do believe that these dramas are linked, and travel through the generations. One can decide to face it or not, but it does hide in the genes. I don’t have a very scientific side, but more an intuitive side. That’s how we have a therapies called ‘constellation familiale’ (family constellation) which I find very interesting. Interesting to see how things are linked to one another.
My Medusa refuses to be this young/old witch woman. She wants to be beautiful. So we had to find a way. The little girl was very much there from the beginning. And I put a story from the west cost of Sweden where my Morfar (Grandfather) came from. I also used colours as if they were music notes.
Well, there is a lot to say about it. I could also talk about the jellyfish, which I find fascinating. I actually sent a copy of ‘Mother Medusa’ to a big specialist of jellyfish in France, Jacqueline Goy. And she very kindly wrote back to tell me that she would invite me to the inauguration of a new museum of jellyfish in Paris. Can’t wait!
And we could also talk about hair; the evolution of the hairstyle. And what it meant to have very long hair in each century. It’s also a form of freedom; to let it loose. We also hear that to have long hair is a form of power… Well, I could go on till the day turns into night. But I'd better stop here.
The book was first published in French by Pastel—l'école des loisirs in the autumn of 2014. What have you been working with since then?
I did a big project with Ville cultural Mons in 2015. I proposed to paint in a room. They built a special wooden box for me. This all happened in an art nouveau house which was getting restored. A very beautiful old house. The first house to have electricity in Mons.
I was getting very interested in painting large-scale for a change. I got fascinated by the refuse tips . There are 320 in Belgium, left by the coal industry. The miners had to go down 700 meters and dig out 10 tonnes to get only 1 tonne of coal. That’s how those small mountains are formed. The descendants say that their ancestors only left them stones. But I had this impression that they left a form of Eden. Because on those hilltops very unusual plants grow. Rare animals go there too. Because inside those baby mountains, it's still really hot. It’s in combustion. When you walk on their heads (the hills) and dig a small hole, you can warm your hands. I was fascinated by the process of nature. After 600 million years, wood appears that grows on bogs (in this area for sure). It would drown by its own weight. And then grow again. Like breathing. So men dug out the coal, and it would take only 100 years or so to make it disappear... but from all the digging would grow another forest. So, Eden. My friend Carl Norac (author and poet) wrote a very beautiful poem about my paintings. He was born in that area. It’s in French; it’s called Eden.
I had another exhibition in Skärhamn, Sweden. It was at a very beautiful watercolour museum. I had the idea to do an exhibition with three of my favourite author-illustrators: Eva Lindström, Harriët van Reek and Nadja. We worked together on the same drawings for a week, and the museum made a fantastic fanzine catalogue from what we produced. It’s called Elk me.
And then we got together for another week where we painted in a tiny room. It was such a fantastic opportunity to work side by side with those three amazing artists/women.
I also worked on a story for a Flemish publisher that happened during the First World War. In Flemish, the title is Getekend door de oorlog. Publisher : Manteau.
It´s written by Karla Stoefs, and several illustrators took part. I illustrated the story of Rachel. It's a book to explain war using stories that really happened to children.
I’m currently working on an activity book based on all the workshops that I’ve been giving. There will be a kind of story running through it. It’s a very funny character; I think this will be my funniest book. But it’s a really slow process. I keep having projects popping up that need to be done straight away.
I've also done a few workshops where I included dance and drawing. I realise how much people don't move. And drawing is a form of dancing, like everything else actually. How you move and how much you are present in the movement.
I got very inspired by this fantastic artist called Segni Mossi, who gives workshops to kids. Dance Draw Play (sounds like the perfect programme to me). I think dancing should come back into the schools until kids are 18... or older.
I think we should do singing/drawing/dancing/meditation alongside science and literature... then we would have a happier society.
What are your plans for 2016?
I am doing a book. Once a year, a museum in The Hague and the publisher Leopold publish a book about an artist. Not to explain the life of the artist, but just to catch a side of them that the author/illustrator sees. They’ve asked me to work on Jan Toorop.
I only knew one of his paintings. He was born in Java, Indonesia, and he left the island with his family to travel to Holland at the age of 11. He become a painter – most famous for his symbolist period. In fact, the more I learn about him the more I like him. It's a great challenging work; I have to be close to him but not ‘be him’ of course.
And in March 2016 there will be a new Poka and Mia book: A Gift for Grandmother. Mia finds a beautiful shell, and wants to give it to her grandma. But it turns out that there is someone who lives inside. Uhoh.
(Photo:©Greetje Van Buggenhout)