Author of the illustrated poem, ‘Get Rid of Fetu Fotofoto Day’
Born in Matamata in 1961, Gregory O'Brien is a writer and artist who lives in Wellington. He has produced numerous books about art, collections of poetry, a novel and miscellaneous other productions. In 2007 he wrote a book about the New Zealand School Journal, A Nest of Singing Birds, to mark the 100th birthday of that publication. Greg has illustrated books for writers including C. K. Stead, Elizabeth Smither and Kate De Goldi (The ACB with Honora Lee, 2013). He exhibits his paintings at Bowen Galleries in Wellington and, in recent years, has worked on an ongoing series of etchings with the Niuean-born artist John Pule. (He made the drawings in the Annual after visiting John in Niue during the Spring of 2015.) He has written three books about art for younger readers: Welcome to the South Seas (2004), Back and Beyond (2008) and See What I Can See; New Zealand Photography for the Young and Curious (2015).
Around the age of ten, I had already devoured The Lord of the Rings, but found myself even more spellbound by Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books. I loved Jansson's drawings and maps as well as her writing. I liked the crazy humour, the tenderness (yes, I remember this) and the other-worldliness. I have never stopped reading the Moomintroll books--they follow me through my adult life. I also remember, with delight: Hoffnung's The Isle of Cats and Ronald Searle's books. Also: Miroslav Sasek's series of books about great cities of the world: This is Paris, This is Rome etc. Visually, those books were a revelation, an inspiration and--later on--an influence. By the time I was a teenager I had come across an edition of Flann O'Brien's short novel The Poor Mouth with amazing illustrations by Ralph Steadman. I was always drawn to books which brought together pictures and words (but, alas, there weren't any graphic novels around in the 1970s--or none that I was aware of). That inclination has shaped by life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had one foot in the visual-art world and the other foot in the realm of words. And so it remains. Lucky me.