On my radar: Oliver Jefferss cultural highlights

The bestselling childrens author and illustrator on sculptor Prune Nourry, the intrigue of unfinished paintings, and seeing a Belfast boxer win in Brooklyn

Born in Australia, brought up in Belfast and now a Brooklyn resident, Oliver Jeffers is an acclaimed illustrator and writer whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. His award-winning debut, How to Catch a Star, was released in 2004, followed in 2005 by Lost and Found and in 2006 by The Incredible Book Eating Boy. Drew Daywalts The Day the Crayons Quit (2013), which Jeffers illustrated, reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list; Jefferss books Stuck (2011) and This Moose Belongs to Me (2012) also made the list. His latest, A Child of Books co-created with typographic artist Sam Winston, is out on 1 September.

1 | Sculpture

Prune Nourry, Terracotta Daughters

Stunning: Prune Nourrys Terracotta Daughters. Photograph: Miguel Tovar/STF/LatinContent/Getty Images
Prune Nourry is a French sculptor and a lot of her work is based on gender inequality. This one was about the one-child policy they had in China and how parents would quietly give girls up for adoption there are orphanages populated with little girls across China. Prune recreated the terracotta army, basing 116 life-size sculptures on some of the girls given up for adoption. She has travelled around with the project I saw it in Paris and New York and now it has gone back to China to be buried, where in 15 years shes going to do a fake excavation. Stunning.


2 | Nonfiction

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R Buckminster Fuller (1968)

This is the book that has had the most impact on me recently. It treats Earth as a spaceship that has finite fuel that cant be restocked, and its about how we survive as a species without spiralling into oblivion. Its surprisingly apt for today, and also slightly depressing because all these predictions based on scientific thinking that seem obvious when theyre written have not happened. People are fallible and compelled to make the same mistakes over and over. Its a fascinating read, especially as Im trying to explain this planet to my one-year-old son and it was a really interesting take on the whole thing. There are so many pearls of wisdom in it.

3 | Sport

Boxing in Brooklyn

The atmosphere was electric: Carl Frampton wins the featherweight championship in Brooklyn. Photograph: Anthony Geathers/Getty Images
I went to see the title fight for the featherweight championship a few weeks ago. There was this boxer from Belfast, Carl Frampton: the place was rammed to the rafters and I think almost two-thirds were from Northern Ireland. The bar staff were going, Weve never seen anything like this. Normally when people come for a concert or basketball you dont get crowds singing songs in the bar. It was a great fight and Frampton won, so hes the new champion. The atmosphere was electric and it was a fantastic evening: Belfast in Brooklyn.

4 | Place

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

A beautiful piece of coastline: The Red Arch on the Antrim coast road, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Alamy

I try to go back to Belfast as often as I can, a couple of times a year. Last time I took no phone, no radio, and went for a drive up the north coast of Antrim. Its a beautiful piece of coastline: rugged and wild and also quite barren. There arent really any trees, its mostly heath and rock. Ive used photographs Ive taken there as the basis for several landscape paintings. I had fish and chips just outside Ballymena and then went to Ballintoy, where my wife and I were married they film Game of Thrones there now and I went for a walk along the pier. It was absolutely stunning and one of the best days Ive had in a while.

5 | Music

Chris Thile (mandolinist)

My jaw nearly hit the floor. Just incredible: Mandolinist Chris Thile. Photograph: Anna Kucera for the Guardian

Chris won the MacArthur prize, or genius grant, for a musical project hes doing. He figured out that Bach concertos and partitas were better played on a mandolin than a violin, because of the subtlety: to hit the particular chords that use the top and bottom string, you have to play the violin quite aggressively, to physically get the bow to do that. But with the mandolin you can pluck very gently, so you can play these pieces quite differently to how theyve been played before. He came by the studio and played me some, and my jaw nearly hit the floor. It was just incredible.

6 | Performance

Duke Riley, Fly By Night

Bizarre, abstract and completely arresting: Fly By Night by Duke Riley. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Duke Riley is an artist who did this project at the start of the summer. Over a couple of years he trained 2,000 pigeons to fly a little bit later each evening, and then did this half-hour performance where he flew them from a boat in the Brooklyn navy yard. They all had LED lights attached to them, and just as dusk was settling, and the city is starting to disappear, all these pigeons took off it was pretty surreal. It looked like you were under water watching a shoal of fish. It was one of the most beautiful things Ive ever seen: bizarre, abstract and completely arresting.


7 | Restaurant

Fort Defiance, Brooklyn

This is a bar/restaurant in Red Hook, which is an area thats sort of cut off from the rest of Brooklyn; its very nautical, because thats historically where all the ships came in. Its mostly classic American fare, but theres this one Mexican dish, huevos rancheros the greatest thing Ive ever eaten. I asked them about the dish and they said that the chefs are all Mexican, and the owner came in one day and thats what they were cooking for themselves for breakfast. It was their mothers recipe. The owner had some and insisted on putting it on the menu.

8 | Exhibition

Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, Met Breuer, New York

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/aug/28/on-my-radar-oliver-jeffers-prune-nourry

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