The following notes are toward 'The Painters Tongue - 1990 - 2000'

The current draft concerns the year 1990.

I have posted some images if only to introduce of the specificiity of the cultural context. This project is stiil very much a 'work in progress' with so much work still to be done. 

Should anyone feel interested to communicate, critique or just comment 

My details are on the 'Contact' page.

                             The Painter’s Tongue - 1990

 

graham paton 1988 with john waller

Plan A

Mid-winter, London 1990 I struck gold.  ‘Alright then Guv ‘ere’s the deal – 20 quid a week for the flat and for an extra fiver I will throw you up a power cord.’  My new landlord, Nick a wide boy from Bethnal Green.  His girlfriend, Tiffany ran a flower shop downstairs, catering to the smart set around the Highbury-Islington precinct.  I had just taken on the two-floor apartment above their shop on St. Paul’s Road for 25 quid a week.  It was what they used to call ‘a cold water flat’.  At the time I couldn’t imagine a better deal.  By any measure it was a steal but you get what you pay for.  In effect I was paying for a pigeon loft.

Nick explained apartment hadn’t been inhabited for 30 years, I was wondering if that was since the war.  The entire first floor was choked with discarded machinery; it must have been a sweatshop in its last life.  Upstairs was where the pigeons had been living for the past thirty years.  To open the door triggered a dark flapping swarm, which soon enough cleared, since over the years they had smashed out all the windows.  After the pigeons escaped, all that was left was an uncanny blanched landscape.  It took a while to recognize the shapes of up-turned mattresses, beds, tables and chairs; as if it had been the scene of a crime since buried under thirty years of pigeon shit.  Had I been more enterprising I might have bagged up the encrusted phosphate and sold it for fertilizer.

Over the next week I stripped out all the furniture; scraped down the walls, the window-sills & skirting-boards and rolled all the pigeon shit into the ancient encrusted linoleum, dragged it downstairs and dumped the lot of it with the rest of the rubbish on the first floor; threw in a couple of insect bombs and taped up the door.

Upstairs, there were three useable rooms; the old living room which was to become my new studio, a tiny bedroom and the remnants of a kitchen; at least there was water and a sink. The kitchen doubled as bathroom.  After smoothing out some of the gaping holes with spackle-filler, I bought a five gallon bucket of white paint, semi-gloss, and painted everything with two coats, including the floorboards.  At least it felt clean.  I couldn’t afford to replace the broken windows so I stapled a doubled layer of plastic and old cotton sheets across them, which diverted some of rain and dampened the howling of the wind.  

At the end of a week’s work, it was still early afternoon but already growing dark inside. I turned back for a moment to contemplate the potential of my new studio, when I noticed snowflakes floating in on that final shaft of afternoon light and for that second it looked like a Japanese theatre set.  Pucinni’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ took possession for a moment; Un Bel Di Vedremo.  Tomorrow I would be up on the roof to fix the tiles and then the ceiling, but for the moment I pushed the empty paint bucket into the center of the room and stumbled downstairs back onto St Paul’s Road, N1.

Like most Antipodeans in London, I’d already overstayed my welcome, but my host was diplomatic and sensitive.  What option did he have, I had nowhere to go.  Graham was the namesake and director of the Paton Gallery, famous for championing ‘New British Painting’, the next generation of London figurative painters, who were widely expected to follow on from the School of London painters; Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff , R.B Kitaj, Michael Andrews and David Hockney.  Bacon was a regular at the Paton.  I had seen him there on a number of occasions.  He often came by during the day.  I could recognize his shadow lurking by the edge of the front window of the gallery, where he might sneak a glimpse of the work without being noticed.  Bacon was there for the painting - not the party.

In those days the Paton Gallery was located in Covent Garden.  Langley Court is a tiny alleyway, which runs between Floral Street and Long Acre in the midst of what has since become a well-trodden fashion precinct.  Paton was famous for talent spotting.  He showed the best painters fresh out of the British art schools.  He boasted ‘thirteen of our artists have been acquired for the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York’.  At the time Paton was showing artists such as John Monks, Nicolas Jolly, Jonathan Waller and Mary Mabbutt from the generation of painters, which included Steven Campbell, Graham Crowley and Paula Rego, arguably the last generation of British painters, borne of an unbroken lineage of painting.  This was particularly true of those artists coming from provincial art schools where, despite the advent of theory-based post-medium practices, the study of painting had not been destabilised and the art of drawing was still rigorously maintained.

I’d first met Graham Paton in 1984, while I was the Australian artist-in-residence at the Air & Space Studio on Roseberry Avenue, EC1.  Every year thereafter Graham would ritually send a Christmas card to my wife and I in Darlinghurst where I had been teaching painting, drawing and art theory at the National Art School.  That was until 1989, when I responded with a note explaining that Tempe and I had separated.

It was Graham’s idea that I return to London.  ‘It might be good for you’, he boldly asserted in a direct call to my studio on Arthur Boyd’s property ‘Bundanon’, where I had been living at the time, adding he could always find ways of putting me to good use; which he did.  I hung shows, running errands and the gallery, when he needed back up.  He greeted me like an old friend when I arrived.  As arranged, we grabbed the train to Portsmouth, the ferry to the Isle of Wight and a train down to his house in Ventnor, which looked out across the English Channel to France.

Unpacking my case I offered up the ritual bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label,I had grabbed on the way through customs, imagining he might enjoy a nip with his colleagues from time to time. We knocked back the entire bottle that first night in Ventnor.  Graham would have been seventy-five at the time, I was yet forty.  The only thing I remember was Graham laughing like a prodigious sorcerer, hiding behind his couch trying to Zap me with some imaginary wand and accusing me of being a wizard.  Latter he described me as ‘a whole-hogger’, one who goes all the way, he explained adding, ‘all the best artist are’; as if to underline the significance of his novel phrase.  I must confess I felt quite unprepared for such a character, but the Black Labelhelped me through.

Graham was a self-confessed Anglo-Polynesian.  I never doubted his story of a youth spent studying classical piano, since his art language seemed to be crossed with musical syntax.  Graham maintained he had grown up like ‘A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, referencing Tennessee Williams’ play, where a Cotton Tycoon’s family goes into emotional meltdown around issues of power, wealth and ambiguous sexuality.  Graham claimed he had been the adopted son of the then Governor General of New Zealand and his wife, but the question remains; was that General Sir Charles Fergusson, Sir Michael Meyers, Lord Bledisloe or any successive Governor General?  New Zealand has never had a Governor General by the name Paton.  Eventually Graham moved to London, forgoing a career as a concert pianist for his life as a civil servant.

The gallery seemed to have been his retirement plan.  You can catch a glimpse of him in action from the photographs, by Heather Wardell, in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.  In one he is pictured with Sarah Kent, the infamous art critic for Time-Out Magazine; Graham appears to have stolen the moment. He had an irrepressible charm, an eloquent tongue and an unshakeable toupee. Although faintly recognizable in one of Nicholas Jolly’s paintings, I doubt that Graham was ever an artist’s model, paid by the civil service to stand about naked, nevertheless there was a possibility that Graham could have been a self-confected character inspired by Quentin Crisp’s famous book, ‘The Naked Civil Servant’.  We were sitting in Soho, one Saturday afternoon outside Patisserie Valerie enjoying a cup of coffee and a madeleine, when I first noted Graham had the power to pull a crowd; Graham had poise.  I watched perfect strangers cross the street as if he were a local celebrity; a couple kissed even his hand as he waved them off.

His generous invitation extended to sharing his tiny flat on Highbury Fields, a few doors up from Walter Sickert’s apparently unsuccessful art school, since marked by a green plaque.  In Graham’s flat I noted a couple of formal life-drawings of a young male model by John Devane, whose work Graham had shown at one point.  Having spent so much time in life-drawing rooms, I was blind to the homoerotic signification, in face of the eloquence of Devane’s exquisite draughtsmanship.  What I did notice was the complete lack of celebration of contemporary art, as I had come to expect from Australian dealers.  No - Graham’s flat showed all the modestly and taste one might expect of a civil servant.  He had said it was small.  He wasn’t kidding.  I imagined I might just crash on the living room floor until I got myself organised, but Graham had other plans.  He had set up a makeshift cot at the end of his double bed and would nightly encourage me to make myself more comfortable.

Intermittent intimations of his sexual exploits revealed a Baconesque preference for anonymous sex.  One brief sketch outlined an act of buggery as if straight from Bacon’s ‘Study of Figures on a Bed’ (1972), Graham’s version ended with a Chelsea boot being hurled at the bedside lamp; a light bulb explodes at the point of orgasm.  But despite my pluralistic sensitivities, amenable nature and compromised circumstances, I was not ‘a gentleman’s gentleman,’ as Bacon put it, and had no interest in sharing Graham’s bed.

Thus my sense of relief when I was able to move into my cold-water flat above St. Pauls’ Road at the Highbury-Islington roundabout.  It is amazing what you can achieve with an electric jug and electric fry pan, but nothing would protect me from the cold except a searing focus on my work.  Nights above St. Paul’s Road seemed to be haunted by ghoulish dreams; one night a dog eats out my stomach, the next its Count Dracula disembowelling me, the following night an indeterminate creature tears me limb from limb – and always the blood. Each night I would wake in a cold sweat, as if muffling a scream.

In this context I began to develop a vague plan – lets call it ‘Plan A’.  I had every confidence in my draughtsmanship and facility as a painter and recognised working at the gallery presented a special opportunity.  Although a solo exhibition would be out of the question, at least until I could substantiate the merits of my painting, I figured if I could just land one strong painting in the gallery, it might establish my credibility as a painter.  Thus I’d been contemplating the right spot; perhaps that blank spot near the front door where Bacon often lurked; maybe that empty space above the stairwell would do, of course behind the desk where I would sit minding the shows would be perfect; it was usually left empty.  Even if such a painting was only in position during the period I was sitting the shows, I figured I could initiate a wave of interest.  Even if I never even mentioned my work, I imagined the canvas itself could open an opportunity; such was my faith in the power of my painting. Of course it couldn’t be too big, and indeed it would have to be appropriately framed.

desert fishing

Thus I began to paint, intent on wedging open that window of opportunity for my work.  The natural alignment between New British Painting and my own Antipodean preferences left me feeling lucky.  Given the reciprocal influences of a previous generation of Australian artists on British painters and vice versa, such as the influence of Sidney Nolan’s early work on a young David Hockney or Francis Bacon’s work on the young Brett Whiteley; I imagined that I too might be able to bring something new to the Paton.  I began working toward that one strongly painterly image with a deeply poetic resonance.  Graham did me the courtesy of occasionally checking in on his way back from the gallery ‘to see how I was settling-in’ which was very kind of him but I felt my bohemian circumstances only served to further his erotic fantasies.  As if in direct proportion to my disinterest in his subtle overtures, Graham showed not the faintest sign of interest in my painting.

gulp

By this time, despite my lean lifestyle, my meagre savings were beginning to run low.  Graham’s idea of ‘helping out’ was at best self-serving if not totally exploitative. He always cried poor, rationing my work in a deadly configuration of minimal hours at a pitiful rate.  To take advantage of his offer would usually cost me as much in travel and lunch, as I might stand to earn in an afternoon, but I did so in the vain hope of winning that faint window of opportunity, which by now I needed desperately.

Working in the gallery had given me an insight into Graham’s curatorial processes. Despite the flamboyant rhetoric, the constant references to rich internal worlds and the passionate act of painting, Graham took his cues from the art schools; offering solo shows to graduating students, who had won the appropriate prizes, scholarships and studios. Sometimes he might include a work in a group show, but few of his artists went onto a second solo show, regardless of the critical reception of their work.  It took me a while to understand this. 

Working at the gallery I was under strict instructions to never accept any folio or presentation from any artist looking to show at the gallery, especially in face of the gallery’s growing international profile.  But of course - I had to learn the hard way.  One afternoon mid-week afternoon a young French artist, who had just graduated from École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, breezed into the gallery with her folio.  I immediately apologised and explained I was under strict instruction never to look at any presentation, and especially never to accept any folio or slides.  The gallery was empty and she had swept into the gallery with such a breath of optimism, it seemed disrespectful to send her away without a hearing; next I was leafing through her slides.  I was impressed.

I felt I was looking at a body of work that had success written all over it.  The painting seemed perfectly in-line with the sort of work the gallery had been showing.  I repeated all the caveats again, and the powerlessness of my situation - however given Graham’s constant lament about business being slow I began to imagine showing some contemporary French painting might help the gallery’s public profile.  Repeating all the caveats yet again I dared to take a folio.  Bad move.  When eventually I had the opportunity to talk to Graham about the work, he interrupted my introduction to repeat his own caveat.  Then taking the package of slides he disdainfully dropped them into the bin and snapped the lid closed ‘… and that my dear boy is that’.

In this light I began to reconsider the foundations of my own hopes.  Given Graham’s annual Xmas cards, I had always reciprocated by sending him invitations to my Sydney exhibitions.  Before leaving Australia I made a point of sending him a comprehensive folio of my own work, including slides and C/V.  However over the course of my time as Graham’s guest, I had conducted an exhaustive search for my folio and found not the slightest trace of it.  No doubt it had also been binned and that would have - no doubt - been that.  Eventually I began to recognise Graham’s curatorial choices were not made in response to an open field of choices but were determined by a narrow political framework.  As he said, Paton showed ‘New British Painting’ and this descriptor determined an exact limit.  ‘New British Painting’ was not simply the title of the exhibition which was touring the public galleries of America at the time, with a substantial catalogue bearing the same name by Edward Lucie-Smith, it was a structural framework determined by a hierarchy of critical institutional voices, which directed the Paton to a narrow selection of potential painters graduating from key British art schools. 

It wasn’t long after this realisation that Graham dropped by my studio one last time. ‘It’s time to talk straight’, he began;

‘I can see that you have imagined I invited you to London as a painter, and I appreciate that you have been working in hope of some representation by the gallery but I have to tell you that is not going to happen.  I show ‘New British Painting’; You are not new.  You are not British, and I must confess I do not understand your painting.  In short there is no future for you at the Paton Gallery as a painter.

I had imagined that sometimes when a straight man goes through a divorce they can sometimes be open to a gay relationship.  But clearly, that is not going to happen.  I had hoped that we might be able to develop some sort of partnership, which might have extended to the joint management of the gallery, perhaps support for your practice as a painter, but it is now obvious that cannot work.  So I have to say I can’t see any future for you here – I though it best you know.

On that note we parted ways.

 

Plan B


I had jettisoned my career as a high-school art teacher the moment I served out my scholarship bond to the Victorian Education Department in the mid-seventies.  Although I had since taught at a number of tertiary institutions, my posts were erratic, part-time and contingent upon my trajectory as an artist.  Nevertheless I did have a post-graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. I dusted it down and headed off to try my luck with the British Secondary Education Department.  This time luck seemed to be on my side.

The Secondary Education Department was in the midst of reconfiguring their Arts and Crafts programs to meet the demands of their new Technology curriculum with its emphasis on innovation.  No doubt it was my experience teaching video art at Melbourne University that secured my place in the program, although my itinerant history as an artist meant I had to start on a 1styear teacher’s wage.  The new deal was I would have to complete the six months induction into the National Curriculum on my own time, updating my qualifications to contemporary British standards, whilst concurrently teaching Technology, Computer Graphics and some Studio Art between the Fulham Sixth Form Centre and the Henry Compton School for Boys, on Fulham Palace Road.  Although the money was not great, the offer of employment was a godsend given my predicament.  I embraced the opportunity with open arms.  What option did I have?

All this was on the other side of London, which would oblige considerable travel time to and from work each day, if I stayed in St Pauls Road.  But given the change in tack I needed to escape the cold-comfort of my studio.  Thus began the search for affordable accommodation on the other side of town.  Given the radical change in social trajectory, I decided to be kinder on myself this time and setup base in a more gracious precinct. Scouting the transport routes, I selected the territory between Kew Gardens and Richmond Park.  However given my 1styear teacher’s wage, I could only afford a share-household or a bedsit.  After a few sobering days trudging about Richmond Hill I settled on a tawdry room, with a grubby en-suite kitchenette and a share toilet down the hall. The room itself was at least airy; it had a bay window and offered a modicum of privacy.  In time, I would be able to clean it up and give it a modest makeover; but the thought was in no way heartening.  So much so, that when I settled my agreement with my new landlord, I argued for an extra day to organise my bond – despite the fact that I had the cash carefully put aside in an envelope in my pocket.  I was still adjusting to the collapse of a dream.  Nothing the world has to offer, looks much chop to a failed artist.

It was almost dark by the time I got back to St. Pauls Road.  I pushed open the door ready to begin the trek upstairs and found myself distracted by a slip of paper that seemed to be wedged under the door.  Picking it up I recognised it as a note from Graham and paid it no further attention until I had settled into the comfort of a hot cup of tea.

Gary – 

I had a call from Arthur Boyd today.  

He had heard you were working at the gallery. 

He asked if you might call him

ASAP – Ph 0171 267 8304

- Cheers Graham.

Although it was dark, it wasn’t late.  I gulped down the remnants of my cup, grabbed my coat and headed straight out to the nearest phone booth.  Arthur answered – he was warm and said he and Yvonne were in London for the week and asked if I might be able to pay them a visit.  We made an arrangement for the following day - 1:00 pm.

Grove Terrace

This time I found myself in the leafy precinct near Parliament Hill, off Hampstead Heath; in front of another long Georgian Terrace - Grove Terrace.  I knocked on a glossy black door a few times to no avail.  Clearly there was no-one at home.  OK – they might be running late.  I distracted myself with my book sitting in the park opposite for a while before trying again – but still no response.  I hung about a little longer but eventually gave up and had just begun the trek back toward Kentish Town, when a car full of waving arms pulled up beside me.

Profuse apologies ensued, the Boyd’s demobbed and we all bustled upstairs.  Arthur explained his schedule – he needed to check Jamie’s house at the top end of the Heath in Highgate.  Jamie and his wife Helena were overseas at the time.  Perhaps I could come for the drive – it is not far?  On the way out Arthur pushed opened a couple of doors and introduced a couple of spaces. The whole place seemed as if someone had just moved out, leaving the furniture and stuff of life just scattered about.  This bore no relation to the order I’d come to expect of a Boyd house, having lived on their estate in Australia for the last twelve months, where everything was tidy and clean, in a richly bohemian sort of way.

arthur boydArthur explained that they didn’t really like living in London, the house was just a place to stay when they had business in town.  The entire ground floor had been a studio at some point, but appeared to have had been abandoned some years ago.  It had since becoming a dumping ground for disused furniture, art materials and assorted paintings.  It was stacked high with industrial cardboard barrels full of raw pigments in various sizes from 5 – 55 gallon drums.  The paintings did not appear to be Arthur’s but a mixed rack of others.  At the rear, a pair of French windows opened out across an overgrown garden, which seemed to stretch back the length of a small football field with a garden shed collapsing centerfield.

In the trip up Highgate Road to Jamie’s place, we talked briefly about my time at Bundanon.  I expressed my gratitude and apologised for having left a little prematurely.   Without saying much Arthur seemed to understand, obviously his staff had already sent in their reports.  At the top of Highgate Hill we got out at another Georgian estate.  This one was a freestanding house, a bit bigger than the last and backed straight onto Hampstead Heath.  I followed behind Arthur as he checked the locks on various windows and doors.  This place at least felt like a Boyd home - lived in and loved.  Arthur explained it had been their first London house.  What must have originally been a basement flat; now functioned as an archival storage unit for art works and materials; it also housed an industrial air conditioning system.  Arthur checked the gauges and temperatures, adding, ‘in winter pipes can freeze and damp can be a real problem’.  Upstairs was an expansive and homey kitchen-dinning room capable of accommodating an indeterminate number of friends and family.  I noted a small rehearsal room littered with music stands and instruments; violins, a cello.   Back at ground level Arthur opened a small door and we shuffled into what was Jamie’s studio – it looked out to Hampstead Heath and bore all the familiar hallmarks and smells of the Boyd painting processes.  It maintained a consistent tone of deep-grey until Arthur hit the light switch.  A couple of massive light bulbs exploded into light, and what looked be a deep grey turned out an encrustation of muddied pigment accumulated since the late 1950s, which bore traces of every colour in the rainbow.

This was Arthur’s original London studio where he must have painted many of his Bride and Nebuchadnezzar paintings.  It was much smaller than Arthur’s Bundanon studio and in some ways more intense, having already served two generations of Boyd painters.  It was still active; Jamie’s brushes had been left soaking in tubs of gum turpentine, fat tubes of oil paint lolled about the palette in unbranded lead casings, lugubriously thick paintings were scattered about as if still drying.   The smells were intoxicating.  By this time Arthur was opening-out a brace of wooden concertina doors in the back of the studio to reveal a recital room, which under other circumstances might have functioned as a drawing or sitting room. It had a grand piano at the other end, with musical scores in piles on the piano and rows of gilded upright chairs in between.

Arthur had began to reminisce about the time when he first invited a London dealer over to look at his work.  I imagine he was talking about Anton Zwemmer. Arthur was visualising a deep red velvet curtain set up at the end of this recital room with an easel set in front of it and about a hundred paintings stacked behind it.   He had laid out a three-legged table, with a bottle of fine whiskey, a jug of water, a couple of glasses and one comfortable chair.  Zwemmer sat in the chair as Arthur placed each painting, one at a time on the easel, allowing time for comment, before replacing it with the next one and so on. As Arthur explained it - by the time he got through showing the paintings, they had finished the bottle of whiskey.  I must have been standing back quietly imbibing everything nuance of the moment, dreaming my way through Arthur’s story, when I felt something push against my chest.  Arthur was busy trying to stuff something into the inside pocket of my jacket.

‘What’s this?’ I asked, somewhat surprised by this almost affronting act of intimacy.  Arthur quickly explained that he had wanted to thank me for the work I had done at Bundanon the previous year.  ‘Oh no Arthur it is I who should be thanking you’, I explained adding, ‘I am so grateful for the opportunity of being able to paint at Bundanon for that year Arthur – you have no idea what it meant to me’.  By this time I’d managed to retrieve the envelope and realised it was crammed full of fresh fifty-pound notes, in neat stacks bound by rubber bands.

‘Oh No – No’, as if disconcerted by such a gesture, I quickly countered, ‘No Arthur you don’t owe me anything, I have done nothing to deserve this,’ and promptly handed it back to him.  I had heard the stories of Arthur’s generosity, the rumours of a modest madness and figured I was now witnessing both in action.  To be honest I found the entire gesture completely incomprehensible. Arthur pushed it back at me again insisting, ‘No Gary - It is for you.’ and I pushed it back again saying he should be giving it to Jamie – he had a big family to support and surely needed it – adding ‘Life is tough for painters these days, Arthur, things have changed since your days.’

By this time my mind was running amok as if my sense of reality had just been tossed off a cliff, and everything principle I had ever understood had been laid to waste. Nobody ever gave me anything like that before and suddenly I felt like I was having some sort of break down. Arthur stopped for second, I felt his hand on my arm as if he was giving me a reality check; ‘Gary - I wouldn’t be giving it to you if Jamie hadn’t already been well looked after.  You have nothing to worry about – this is for you’. Still I protested.  In retrospect, I think it was me who was touched by a form of madness – I just couldn’t conceive of such a gesture.  Such generosity was completely beyond my ken.

Arthur pulled back a little as if recognising that I had a problem with the idea of gift and quickly reconfigured his story.  Next he was explaining that he had wanted me to do a little job for him.  I began to sober up.  Ah ha here we go; my cynical ‘other’ immediately felt more comfortable.  ‘Yes - Yes’ Arthur continued, ‘We have been so busy and are not going to get time to see the Velazquez retrospective, which is on at the Prado in Madrid.  You know they have collected all of his paintings, from the museums all over the world, for this very first retrospective ever held of his work.  I was hoping you might be able to go over and report on it for me?  The money is to cover your expenses Gary.’  The envelope was by now back in my hands.  I looked at it for a while and suddenly realised he really was mad. ‘Arthur’, I explained, ‘this is more than double what would be required for such a trip’, not wishing to offend him I divided the bills into two and handed half of them back to him, in some sort of tacit agreement that I would undertake his mission.

‘No, No, No’ he insisted pushing the other half of the bills back again, ‘that’s just the half of it’, he continued, ‘then I was hoping you might be able to go onto the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to report on the Van Gogh Retrospective for me.  This is the one celebrating his centenary, where they have gathered together a large number of his paintings from all over the world.  His drawings are being shown at the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, near the German border.  I was hoping you might be able to see those exhibitions as well and get back to me. Can you do this for me Gary?’  Well - what can you say to an offer like that?

By this stage it was my sanity that was in doubt.  What the hell was I thinking?  At a time when I was so pitiably humbled, here is someone trying to push a thousand pounds into my pocket and I am unable to accept it.  My response wasn’t a ploy.  In retrospect I can only imagine Arthur’s gift must have disturbed some deeply seated sense of unworthiness; who knows?  By now Arthur was so insistent I put the money back in my pocket if only to placate him, and agreed to undertake his mission.  On the way back to Grove Terrace Arthur intimated that I didn’t have to do the mission if I didn’t want to – but I should take the money.  ‘Perhaps you could … painti… ‘, his voice faultered before petering out.

Getting back down to Grove Terrace, Yvonne had set up for coffee and cake, and while Arthur took a break I found the opportunity to briefly outline the story to Yvonne and handed the envelop back as if Arthur must have suffered a temporary lapse in judgement and I did not want to be accused of taking the advantage. Yvonne looked at the envelope with some surprise, before looking back at me somewhat quizzically asking ‘Did Arthur give this to you?’  ‘Yeah’, I apologised again, to which Yvonne replied ‘well if Arthur gave it to you I imagine he wants you to have it’, and handed the envelope back to me again.

Over coffee Arthur opened another situation he wanted to discuss.  He had already mentioned they didn’t like London; they preferred living in Suffolk.  This meant the house at Grove Terrace was effectively empty, of course some friends and family would occasionally stay over, but mainly it was empty.  The real problem was that some people in the neighborhood had begun to recognize this fact and the house had been broken into - on a number of occasions.  Furniture had begun to disappear; they feared next time someone might just back up a removal van and take the rest of it.

For some time Arthur’s young apprentice, Laith Wark, must have been living at Grove Terrace, but being young he seemed easily seduced into new worlds.  I heard the stories from other sources at the time. Laith had moved out of Grove Terrace to live with his Australian mates in a squat; next he was off to Spain - surfing.  No doubt Arthur’s generosity facilitated such adventures.  Following his Spanish surfing expedition Laith returned to London broke, oblivious to the fact that, unlike Arthur, the British Home Office had no interest in impecunious surfers.  Customs officers asked him where he was staying, he explained he was living in a squat with his mates.  They put him on the next plane back to Australia and so ended his apprenticeship. Grove Terrace had more or less stood unguarded ever since.  I could see their problem.

Arthur took me downstairs and showed me about the basement flat.  It was as if the last inhabitants had left six months ago after a boozy farewell party with no time to clean up.  Mould was taking over from where the last supper left off. I noticed an industrial paint-making machine discarded in a corner of the kitchen.  There was a living-dining room space adjacent to the kitchen bench, next door was a small bedroom with a heroic Spanish wardrobe and low sleeping platform, which looked out across the back garden at eye level.  It even had its own cellar.  It came with central heating and a separate bathroom/toilet, a bath, but no shower - how British.

Arthur asked if he might be able to tempt me to take over the basement, adding seductively ‘You could get on with your work. We would cover all the bills - electricity, gas and telephone.’  I introduced my story and explained that I had already taken a position as a Technology teacher.  ‘That’s no problem’ said Arthur, ‘when can you move in?’  I was in residence by the end of the week.  Arthur and Yvonne had already returned to their place in Ramsholt, Suffolk by then.  It took me a while to clean out the basement to my satisfaction.  Everything needed to be scoured and scrubbed; what couldn’t be cleaned required a fresh coat of paint and if not completely replaced, but eventually I was happily ensconced in my second Boyd residence.  This one was a more or less empty, somewhat derelict five-story Georgian Terrace at Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. My only question was how long did I have?  Three months, six months, a year, three?  But time proved a question that was impossible to discuss; there was no-one to talk to about it.

I was aware that the sculptor Joel Ellenberg and his wife Anna, who later became the director of the Anna Schwartz Gallery, had lived in Arthur’s house in Tuscany, ‘Il Paretaio’, for several years.  Il Paretaio was the Boyd’s two-story Tuscan stone farm-house complete with a rambling kitchen and many rooms, studios, stables, a swimming pool, vineyards and olive groves.  The Ellenbergs hosted many well-known and unknown visitors over the years they were there including Brett and Wendy Whiteley, Akio Makigawa and Gary Foley to name but a few.  After Joel died of cancer, Arthur offered ‘Il Paretaio’ to the Australia Council to manage. Over the next fifteen years the Australia Council offered short residencies to a wide selection of Australian artists including; Janine Burke, Tony Clark, Dom De Clario, Rosslynd Piggot, Elizabeth Gower and John Neeson etc. Clearly Arthur and Yvonne were extraordinarily generous people and I felt touched, as if Arthur really was some sort of a saint.

School proved all consuming; it took me an hour and half to get to school in the morning, then teaching all day between two schools, to be followed by my studies with the National Curriculum Program, a further hour and a half back home again, a hasty meal and time for my lesson preparations for the next day, and finally to bed.  At Grove Terrace I was on the precipice of an enormous opportunity as an artist but I had no time to paint.  I felt trapped, but there was nothing I could do about it.  My time had already been committed – I'd just become a Technology teacher.

 

To Be Continued.