ISABEL DE VASCONCELLOS: Today Is The Day
ISABEL DE VASCONCELLOS is a writer, curator and arts advisor. Previously Projects Coordinator for Antony Gormley, on whose exhibitions and commissions she worked for nine years, she began her career as Museums Liaison for White Cube (London), and has worked independently with contemporary artists internationally. After years of helping others realise their creative visions, she decided to dedicate herself to writing, and is currently working on her first novel, Olivier on the Cowley Road. She lives in London, and wherever she lays her hat.
Interview by Melissa Unger.
YOU LENT YOUR CREATIVE TALENTS TO OTHERS BEFORE MAKING THE LEAP PROFESSIONALLY TOWARDS EXPLORING YOUR OWN, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THAT LEAP?
I always knew I wanted to write, so there was never any doubt in my mind that I would eventually make that transition. But as an academic child with a fairly sheltered upbringing, I couldn’t help but be aware of my imaginative limitations as I came up against adulthood. My relationship to the world seemed unsatisfyingly abstract. In my early twenties, I felt very strongly that I had a taste for writing, but that I was lacking stories. Looking at my options, I didn’t want to get stuck into a career that I couldn’t easily move out of, and I also wanted to be exposed to people who contributed something tangible to our cultural landscape. How do you take an idea and make it into an actual object, rather than begetting another idea from it? Something told me that by working with artists, and helping them translate their ambitions into realities, I would learn important practical lessons about how to nurture and manage my own creative urges.
So, in a sense, my professional work was as much an apprenticeship as a job. And inevitably, in the meantime, I packed in quite a bit of living. There came a point when I thought: “I’m ready. It’s now or never. Am I really going to do this, then?” And I set out to discover the answer.
HOW HAS THIS SHIFT POSITIVELY AFFECTED YOUR LIFE?
When I left my job, I decided to call everything into question. Not only what I did, but where I did it. After all, one of the wonderful things about being a writer is that you really can do it anywhere. So since I started the novel, I’ve been at home in London, but I’ve also taken opportunities I was given to live in Sardinia and Scotland. It helps, to break out of routine and be stimulated by new landscapes and ways of being. So this freedom to move has brought with it many incredible memories, meetings and intense experiences that I could never have hoped to have as an occasional traveler or tourist.
Also, once people know you’ve embarked on a creative project of your own, they can be very generous with their time and ideas; they go out of their way to introduce you to people or things they think you might be interested in. You can read and think laterally, really explore connections between questions that you have to set aside in the chaos of the everyday. I’ve also been able to work on a few smaller projects with emerging and mid-career artists and young publishers. I am very strict about keeping my focus and energies on my own work, but it’s good to have the option of mixing things up a little. Writing is lonely, and long term. Sometimes, it’s nice to surface for air and attack something immediate. Working other parts of your mind like this is excellent for refreshing and reinvigorating your ideas. I call it shaking the imaginative tree.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT HAS HAD A PROFOUND IMPACT ON YOUR CREATIVE EVOLUTION?
I’ve always been very porous to the world. So many things have the power to move and inspire, from art and literature through architecture and dance; through simple observation, and contemplation of what goes on under your nose. Sometimes, it takes no more than the sun hitting an object at an unexpected angle to transform the way you see the simplest of things.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR MUSE?
I’ve been lucky to come across so many inspiring people over the course of my life, but to call them mentors or muses would be to foist a status on them which they haven’t asked for, so I’d stop short of doing so. These people have influenced me more than they’d ever guess: Antony Gormley, Mona Hatoum and Mike Figgis. Above all, they’re examples of how to be driven, speculative, surprising, generous-minded. And I thank my lucky stars for my friends, who continue to sustain me through everything.
ISABEL’S DESK: Ever since I was a child, I’ve always needed to have my desk facing a window, and preferably one with a changing view, which gives me a sense of the seasons and the time of day. Here in London, I’m lucky to overlook a delightful square, always filled with incident and interest. There are dogwalkers, sunbathers, snowman builders, leaf kickers, commuters, travelers rolling their suitcases behind them… even people practicing their instruments: we’ve had guitar, double bass, flute and piccolo players on the benches opposite the building! When you sit on your own all day, it’s good to look up occasionally and see the world carrying on with its own preoccupations.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT OBSESSION?
Keeping a balance between the life of my characters and the people in my life. They’re a forceful and fascinating lot, each demanding and deserving my care and attention, and I’m forever trying to figure out how to keep it all alive and thriving. Other than that, always looking, listening, feeling; trying to experience each moment as fully as possible.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS TO THOSE SEEKING TO GET THEIR CREATIVITY FLOWING?
No matter how much you prepare for change, or anticipate it, you can’t get away from the fact that those first steps away from the certainties of structured existence are scary. You could spend years, or your whole life, waiting for “the right time” to explore your creative ambitions. The truth is that, like falling in love, or having a baby, or anything else involving risk and a ceding of control, there is never an ideal moment. So the most important thing to keep in mind is that today is as good a day as any.
Published: October 11th, 2011