Art in the Time of Physical Distance: Lisa Moore

April 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why? I’m reading Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I’ve read Tess of the D’Urbervilles three times and Far from the Madding Crowd twice. I’ve never read Jude, but the voice feels familiar, the concerns, the big landscapes, the work of farming, carpentry, animal husbandry, masonry, or trying to be pompous and ‘refined’; crawling up the social ladder or having all the rungs break while you topple down. There’s such rigour in these novels, such energy, lots of fine calibration between the grinding notches of class. I rescued this copy from under the corner of a bed on third floor (attic) of my house, where someone jammed it when the leg cracked off. As a young man Jude teaches himself Greek and Latin, he wants to become a scholar. He walks to work with the open book in his hand. A young woman and her two friends toss a piece of pig offal at him (they’re washing out pig’s guts for blood pudding in a little stream and this, they determine, is a form of flirting. Go figure). It’s a world that is wholly immersive, and it unfolds with a measured, sure pacing that makes hours flit by. Whole lives, desires, motivations, passions, losses of fortune, tumbling vertiginously downward to economic precarity or rock-bottom poverty – all of this unwinds and grips at the same time.


Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching?  Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site? I haven’t been watching many films or series. Mostly when I’m not reading or writing, I’ve been doing a few portraits, from photographs, sent to my phone by text. I find that kind of painting completely absorbing, trying to get a tiny dot of white paint on an iris, to show the way the light is falling. I listen to podcasts while I paint. A lot of New Yorker fiction read by the author. Or podcasts about fine art, Momus: The Podcast or Front Row from the BBC. Or the news podcasts: The Daily, Front Burner, or the BBC’s Today in Focus. And History Extra Podcast, with episodes like The Black Death and Social Change or News in the Middle Ages; The London Review Bookshop Podcast, and the Washington Post’s Can He Do That? (generally, about Trump, and generally, he can’t!).


What music or artist are you listening to right now and why? Otis Redding, Leon Redbone, Bob Dylan, Kate and Anna McGarrigle. I am listening to the stuff I listened to when I was 20. I am listening to it as loud as it will go, while I dance around the living room with the sun setting. It’s not that I want to be 20 again, but I want to remember it exactly as it was. It’s very hard not to cave into nostalgia or to romanticize that age. But I do remember, for instance, drinking red wine, wearing a pink satin minidress that I bought from the Sally Ann, at a cocktail party on a balcony of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Someone bumped into the guy I was talking to and his red wine slopped out and soaked me! And I said, quite dryly (excuse the pun): “Oh no! All over my two-dollar dress.”  I loved that dress with my whole heart, but I had many spectacular two-dollar dresses at the time. I’d been painting all afternoon, a giant canvas, bigger than me, a still from the film The Misfits. The actors were just pale washes of colour. That afternoon comes back to me and it seems suffused with euphoria. I listened to Leon Redbone a lot: ‘Lazy bones, sleeping in the sun, when you gonna get your day’s work done? Never get your day’s work done, lying in the noon day sun!’ I think it’s true to say – and not just nostalgic – I felt very free, at least some of the time!


Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now? I have always woken very early and worked in the dark, when it’s quiet and there are no other people around. I love the deep, deep silence of that time. I love the intensity that comes with writing, those moments of deep concentration and, paradoxically, abandon. Losing myself. And I love when I look up and realize a lot of time has gone by and I’m wrung out, as if I’ve been living another life.
But there are also those moments when loneliness leaps out, or the page is a void, and it seems that there is nothing to say, and on these occasions I try to start with the things at hand, really notice the physical space I am in, the furniture, the sunlight, the sensual details of the world, the stories I’ve heard during the day, the people I’ve seen. Start there. I also say to myself: face this down, it will pass, but acknowledge it. Admit it’s there: fear of what’s coming, fear of loneliness, fear for the world. That fear is also part of being human.


Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you? I answered a chainmail – send a poem to someone, move your name up the list. I have received beautiful poems from people, some who are strangers, some whom I’ve met but hardly know, some close friends. The poems, though. The poems have been startling surprises – little gifts throughout the week.


How has food provided a comfort? We have been eating with candlelight. It makes a sphere and you and the person you’re with are in that sphere together and the shadows and dark are at your back. This has been the absolute best time of day. That yellow, yellow light.


Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with?  I’m around the bay with three dogs, English Setters, and sometimes a fourth, a bloodhound. We go for long walks in the woods, way up on the barrens. I am watching the snow retreat off the wet gold bent-down grass, and the river is roaring. The boulders covered in lichen and moss, the dogs disappear in the woods for long stretches and come galloping back out. They go so fast they barely touch the ground. Almost every day a rabbit comes out from somewhere and crosses the path. I am with [my husband] Steve, and it’s a small house, so sometimes we work with one of us in the living room and one in the kitchen, for long stretches without talking. Sometimes we talk a lot.


In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic? The wide-open space; long, long walks without fear of running into anyone. Spring is coming. All the trees are dripping, my feet keep sinking in the snowbanks, up past my knee. The ocean.


Any overall words of wisdom to share? Call people. The art of the phone call died with the advent of the cell phone, the long unwinding phone call where people talked for hours, with long pauses. Or was it just me? Let’s go back to those conversations that took forever, but were unrushed, disembodied but full of intimacy and laughter and gradually-formulated insight.


What do you miss the most? I miss my grandson who is three. I mean, I REALLY miss him.

An example of Lisa Moore’s current portraiture project: Kalya Howard is a seasonal, essential worker for the City of S. John’s.


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