Only once, to my recollection, has an artwork I’ve created been framed and displayed. It is a collage I made in primary school. A house cut-out of card stands on a sugar-paper hill beneath a tissue-paper sky surrounded by pipe-cleaner trees and cotton-wool sheep.
So, this isn’t the beginning of a story where my great artistic talent was first noticed. The picture was perhaps as good as could be expected from a typical eight-year old. It certainly isn’t the work of a prodigy; but I had expended, I suppose, significant effort on it, and that, I suspect — my biddability and eagerness to please — was what were rewarded by it being submitted to a schools’ art exhibition at Earby library. Thereafter, it was displayed in its gilded frame by mum, not for its own merit but because I’d made it, and she was proud of me. After mum died it was relegated from the sitting room to a dark corner of the landing, where it remained until the gutting of the house contents after dad finally followed mum.
I was not, and did not become, a competent artist, but there is one other work of my hands that I should perhaps like to frame and display. So why don’t I? It sits, as I write, in a box under our bed, having been shepherded with more or less care through several moves and multiple spring-cleans since I was a student in a shady Oxford flat in the spring of 1987 when I drew it.
It is a straightforward copy of a photograph that I rendered in pencil and oil pastels. I would occasionally buy art materials in the optimistically self-improving hope of persuading myself to have a go at becoming better acquainted with form and line. I guess I liked the idea of being one of those serious but dreamy types you see sketching the sculptures in galleries as visitors mill around them on their way to the cafe and gift-shop.
The drawing is a head and shoulders portrait of a face that I dare suggest, if I did display it, visitors might recognise even now. The rendering of the girl’s fingers, resting against her opposite shoulder, is terrible. It looks like she has a withered hand. I could use a cardboard mount that would obscure that. Most of the rest, though, is something I could just about admit to. I think. At least when visualising it from memory.
I spent hours drawing that picture, learning, if not quite accurately reproducing, the curve of that bared left shoulder; the precise angle of that nose she diffidently described as not-having-a-nose; the crescent dimpling of those cheeks; and the downward cast of the head, eyes tilted upwards to look just away from the camera where a moment before they had been — incredibly, beautifully, astonishingly — looking at me.
I became — uselessly, pointlessly, briefly — a slightly better than atrocious artist out of love.
No-one would mistake it for the work of a professional, or even a gifted amateur. It looks, in fact, now I take it out and examine it again, no better than something that might be displayed by a proud mother.
Or a husband, awkwardly offering a half-gift to his other.