I have just spent the past few days poring over a new book. Free Spirits is an absorbing collection of intimate interviews with artists based in Cornwall, Paris and London. But this book feels so much more than just a usual compilation of tasteful images and humdrum questions and answers. This is a journal, a resource, a scrapbook of memories, a labour of love in the true sense of the word and homage to those little creative spaces, both physical and internal, that make us all tick.
Free Spirits has been a long term work in progress for Rosie Osborne, herself a professional photographer from a family of artists and writers. She began writing it, drawing it together, sixteen years ago at the age of just fifteen after being inspired by the artistic community in St Ives on a family holiday to Cornwall.
‘The more artists that I visited and spoke to as a teenager, the more I felt intrigued to talk to others. When I was 17, I made a promise to myself that I’d release a book, documenting all of the inspiring stories that I had collected, before I turned 30’, Rosie explains.
And fittingly Free Spirits is set to be released on the eve of her 30th birthday.
Most of the fourteen intimate interviews explore the artists’ influences and backgrounds. Each profile is enriched by images of their work and photographs of their beautifully diverse studio spaces. But ultimately it was not so much the art but the individual, personal stories that captivated me from the start. In the first few pages Rosie sets the tone by introducing us to some of her own family and then the man that started it all, her very first interviewee, 1960s avant-garde and psychedelic artist, Denis Bowen.
“When people pass away, their stories only survive in the minds of the listeners. My grandfather’s words, and their continued effect on me, taught me that a story can have an immense impact on the person listening to it, even to the point of changing the course of their life.”
For her the next decade was filled with joyous encounters all over the world with numerous artists in their homes and studios, and now we can share in that journey. ‘The funny, tragic, inspiring words and stories that I heard over those years were a compass for where I went next, and the decisions that I made, and the energy of each person that I interviewed has stayed with me ever since’, Rosie says.
For me themes of freedom, inevitability and inheritance run through many of the interviews. Rosie’s subtle questioning draws out those emotive, relatable ideas from the artists – their past, their influences, what has governed and shaped their lives and therefore their work.
There are two chapters in the book that have stayed with me and they also perfectly illustrate the importance of Rosie’s work. There is the last ever interview with abstract painter Sandra Blow before she passed away in August 2006. And a truly captivating, and never before documented, interview with Sylvette David, Pablo Picasso’s muse. These are rare and precious moments that we are lucky to now have recorded for us forever.
Throughout Free Spirits Rosie introduces the artists and the places they were interviewed with personal observations and the pages contain many of her own photographs. Rosie’s love of the Cornish countryside is palpable. And the section of the book that focuses on this county, as well as introducing the wonderful Sandra Blow, Sax Impey and Samuel Bassett, also presents a fascinating interview with the Los Angeles-based Danny Fox as he returns to his native Cornwall.
“I’ve learnt a great deal from the artists, writers and people I’ve visited and talked to during this project. Don’t ever grow up. Learn when to throw punches and when to roll with them. Value honesty. Question everything. Figure it out on your own. Stay close to the people you cherish. Let them tell you their endless, funny, tragic stories.”
Free Spirits would be a wonderful companion for anyone interested in art, artists and the creative process. But this book is about much more than that. Rosie has compiled something truly wonderful here and for me these pages speak much more about the human spirit. What drives us, inspires and excites us, and what lurks half hidden in the dark corners of our minds. That unquantifiable, unreplicable, undefinable essence that drives us to create. And of course the importance of someone writing it all down.
Author’s Note: I was not paid for this review but was *gifted a copy of the book – for which I will always be grateful!