Monday, March 11, 2013

Painting in Florence

She dips the brush into the copper pot of balsam. She is still at thirty-one experimenting with mediums, with glazes, with all her manifold materials. She has learned how untrustworthy the chemicals she needs for her art are. The primers, the pigments, the poisons, the oils. They betray her constantly, like unfaithful lovers.
     I paint from nature; I paint what I see.
     She adds medium to the colour she has mixed on her palette. Her palette with its pageantry of firebrand earth colours. She squints at the furrows and folds in the boy’s shirt. At its rhythm of lines. Its choreography of lights and darks. Its shadow shapes and submerged order of half tones. Adds another touch of cadmium red to the colour she has made on her palette. The colour glistens pink like the flesh of a newly spliced watermelon. She holds out her sable brush as she strides forward. Her narrowed blue eyes move back and forth between the image on the canvas and the face of the boy by its side. There is a rhythm in the act, as if a pendulum swings back and forth in her mind. She lays down strokes on the air as she walks, quick corkscrewing flourishes of the brush, rehearsing her intention, marshalling her forces, whipping up her blood. She stops at her easel. Stands forward on her toes. Makes a new mark on the canvas. In her idle left hand she holds a dozen brushes, splayed out like a fan.
     Today is a good day. Today she feels she is the master of her craft. Today she is free of the grinding tyranny of doubt. The voice that mocks her ambition. The voice that bites and slanders and causes her more heartache than any other voice. Today she is focused, she is exultant. Her every brushstroke like a wake of radiance. Today she can move the paint around the canvas at will. If only painting were like this every day. Without the sudden extinguishing of light, the collapsing of belief, the cursing and flailing, the knots and clenched fists in a world gone suddenly dark.
     The boy, Leo, blinks when she studies him. She senses he has to steel himself against the audacity of her exacting eye. He sits with the sleeves of his jersey pulled down over his hands.
     I paint from nature; I paint what I see.
     There is a physical intimacy when she is up at her canvas, when they are side by side. His body heat, his heartbeat, some essence of his being is part of her mood as she lays down paint. She breathes him in, breathes him out, onto the canvas. Sometimes she feels an impulse to touch his face, to trace the contours of his skull with her hand.
     She lays down a brushstroke, smudges it delicately with her finger. There is paint beneath her nails, engrained in the lines on her hands. Her smock is a grubby rainbow of fused colours. She wipes her brushes on the blue fabric. Everything in the studio is peppered with pigment, smeared with oil paint, sticky with resins. The coins and banknotes in her purse often have alizarin crimson or raw umber fingerprints on them. Her ration coupons are crisp with sun-thickened oil stains or blackened with charcoal dust.
     She walks backwards away from the canvas. Tilting her head this way and that. Squinting at her picture. She walks forwards and backwards along this same trail every day for hours on end. The boards beneath her feet shaking, making things rattle in the studio. As happens when the planes fly low overhead. As happens when the armoured vehicles pass by on the riverside street below.
     While she follows the stroke of the brush over the canvas her eyes narrow to thin slits, her brows wrinkle up, her tongue darts out frequently and licks at her upper lip or she pulls faces she would be horrified by if she saw herself in a mirror.
     When she is up by her canvas she can sometimes smell rabbit skin glue. A rotting kind of smell that catches at the back of her throat, that makes her feel queasy. A smell of death among earthroots. There is a blackened pot of the fudge-coloured solution that she has recently heated on the stove in the small kitchen.
     She looks at her image in a small mirror where it seems distant and separate from her, the umbilical cord cut, the intimate connection severed.
     She frowns. She curses aloud, forgetting she is not alone. Scrapes away some of the paint she has laid down with a palette knife. Every decision is measured, is intricate, is fatal.
     But this is pretence on her part, another trick one part of herself plays on another part. A brushstroke is never fatal, though it is a vital element of the painting process to pretend this is not the case. To pretend there is no room for error. She plays countless tricks on the artist in her. Holds back knowledge from her as though the artist in her is a child and she the mother, filtering through intelligence only when she is sure it won’t do any harm. A brushstroke can be erased as though it never existed. She erases many of the strokes she puts down.
     The air raid siren begins shrieking and before long she hears the now familiar low drone of planes in the sky. The grumbling noise gains in intensity. It becomes a sensation in the body, an irritation on the skin, like a feeding insect. The frames rattle, dust is displaced. Circles shiver on the surface of the balsam in the pot on her palette. She goes to the window. Lifts the black drape that keeps out the reflected glare of daylight. Never have the planes been this low in the sky before.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

(thus far)

He walks along the river. Its arresting glitter, its teetering laughter of light, reflected as a pale gold glow up onto the high windows of the riverside palaces, some of which are hung with Nazi banners. So far, so good. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Montemarte (on a Monday evening)

“If you are lucky a very beautiful woman will serve you dinner at # 61 in the Au Virage Lepic restaurant chez Rino + Maurice.(tel: 01 42 52 46 79)

I was clearly unlucky, again. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Saddest Thing aboutLife

Perhaps the saddest thing about life is that certain moments only happen once. There you are suddenly radiant with life, aglow with blessings and everything in the world is phosphorescent with accessible energy. And then, in the skip of a heart, that time is past, is a letter in a shoebox, a stain on a sheet. But then again you also realise that the concept of once is a primary source of the sustaining beauty life has. Of all the arts it’s dance that probably expresses most eloquently and poignantly the transient nature of life’s moments of grace. And this is why everyone should go and see Wim Wenders’ film about Pina Bausch. Twice I was lucky to see her dance company perform and both times it was like being stripped naked and daubed in mud and pollen by the girl with the most beautiful hands.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


My first impression upon stepping over the virtual threshold of Authonomy was of a halfway house for writers. Cheerful and hygienic it might appear but there's also a furtive sense of dispossession, even seediness; a feeling one has now slipped down a social pecking order. One's most treasured possession – one's ambition - is already looking a bit more ragged here, a bit more moth-eaten. One looks around a little warily at one's fellow inmates. One is immediately suspicious of so much overt friendliness, daunted by the ubiquitous flourishes of self-belief. These clearly are people who have tasted the acrimony of rejection on a regular basis. What the hell have they all got to be so cheerful about? Slowly though one settles in. One lowers one's expectations. One begins to enjoy and look forward to the meals on offer. One finds a chair to one's liking and is content to ignore the world outside for longer and longer periods. One realises one might never get out but there's always that one chance in a million that someone will recognise one's truly unique talent.... 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What happens when your wife betrays you for a civil servant?

“Do you know what I do now? my old teacher asked, giving me a kind of self-pleasuring wink. “I watch MTV. Does that shock you? Do you ever watch MTV?”
     “Now and again,” I said.
     “My daughter watched MTV. It was her religion. That’s where she got all her ideas from. I realise now it formed her far more than I did. MTV is all about images. The music is incidental. Once upon a time images were created for churches, now they’re created for MTV. So why go on painting? Images are marketing tools now. Is that why I paint? So that some marketing executive can use my pictures to sell hair products or car insurance?  I saw an ad that used the Mona Lisa to advertise a sanitary towel. In Italy of all places. Because even Italy can’t bear to think of itself as old fashioned. Do you know I sometimes imagine Bin Laden sitting in his cave watching MTV. And then I feel like I understand him. I sympathise with his anger and his hatred of the West. I feel like he and I could be friends. Except he doesn’t drink. Do you know what I think? And I’m going to get into trouble for saying this.” He beckoned to me to lean forward over the table and when I had done so spoke through theatrically cupped hands in a hoarse whisper. “The emancipation of women has led to a world that’s interested in nothing but a narcissistic notion of pleasure.” He sat back with some satisfaction in his chair “Is that what women wanted all along? More pleasure?” He lifted his glass. “I propose a toast. To the Taliban and Bin Laden,” he said loudly, monitoring out of the corner of his eye the response elicited by his words in the bar.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Big Bang

     Is it a new phenomenon this mania on the part of people to impart erroneously piecemeal information they have read up on or heard on TV? I have heard a host of so-called facts lately – that asthma is on the increase because we’ve become too hygienic, that every year the earth accumulates 30,000 tonnes of space dust, that one percent of the dancing static on the TV when you zap onto a non-existent channel are residue particles from the big bang, that.21 billion  pieces of junk mail are delivered to Britain’s homes each year requiring 3.3 million trees to make. All things someone will misquote to someone else on a bus or in a pub today. Did you know that 21 billion fucking people suffer from asthma and it’s caused by residue particles from the Big Bang?