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Making Of An Artist: Jónas Reynir’s Cowboy Cannibals And Unruly Tóta

Making Of An Artist: Jónas Reynir’s Cowboy Cannibals And Unruly Tóta

Photos by
Austurfrétt/Gunnar

Published January 6, 2018

Writer Jónas Reynir Gunnarsson didn’t publish just one book in 2017, but three—all of which met with great praise from critics. It’s safe to say that Jónas Reynir is a newly minted star of Icelandic literature, as it’s not often that an author steps into the spotlight with such a strong impact. We at Grapevine wanted to know what moulded this young and bright mind, and these were his answers.

“I thought about writing just a list of people whose work moved me the most (first three names would probably be Franz Kafka, Tomas Tranströmer and Tsai Ming-liang),” says Jónas. “But then I thought about finding the hidden and forgotten influences, things that made their mark on me long before I knew what I wanted to do in life. And here they are: Three, almost forgotten, important works from my childhood.”

Kamma Laurents – Tóta tætubuska

My mom read this children‘s book to me when I was three. Through short rhymes, it tells the story of an unruly child who terrorises her home, breaking things and ripping clothes apart. Then she has a horrible nightmare where her parents go into her room and start destroying all of her stuff.

When I heard this nightmare being described, I cried as hard as I could, just like Tóta. The next time my mom read the book to me, she tried to skip over the chapter that had traumatised me, but I wouldn‘t let her. Again she read it, and again it affected me just the same. I cried and felt horrible. I had her read this horror story to me many times after that. This was the first poetry I was ever exposed to.

Antonia Bird – Ravenous

I was fourteen when I saw this “Western black comedy horror-suspense film.” I laughed, was shocked, disgusted and on the edge of my seat. But what elevated it from “a film that a 14-year-old thinks is cool“ was the protagonist‘s struggle with cowardice. It wasn‘t this banal type of struggle, like when the hero has to stop being afraid of battle, get over his fatal flaw, beat the bad guy, etc. The hero is struggling against his own ethical cowardice. This is a deeply philosophical film, where the hero has to choose between his beliefs and his life. And has to make this choice through cannibalism.

I‘ve probably watched this film around 30-40 times. The influence it had on my work I think has to do with realising what fuels a story. You can have fireworks, fights and action, but what‘s always moved me is an all-but-unsolvable existential struggle.

Antônio Carlos Jobim – Waters of March

The rhythm of the Portuguese language and the music is so bright and beautiful it‘s hard not being moved by this song. But the lyrics are what make it great.

They’re in the form of a list of things that are by themselves without much effect: A stick, a stone, a sliver of glass, a knot in the wood… but it’s in the combination of these things that the poetry happens. They‘re clear and precise, but then, all of the sudden, the perspective widens and gets impossibly broad: it’s life, it‘s the sun, it’s night, and it’s death.

The list is deadpan and neutral, but flows between precise objects that feel like they represent dreams and memories and unexpected too-big-to-understand-concepts. It is true magic how combining these simple words fills the song with a deep feeling of serenity. Life is just a stone, it’s just a body in bed, it’s just death, it’s just a bunch of things floating in the river after a heavy spring rain. This is true poetry that affected me long before I knew what poetry was.

Read the makings of more artists here.


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