Clowns to the left of me, clowns to the right….


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She liked art
” I like a bit of art ” she said
” I like a picture with a bit of a story, like to loose myself in it, imagine what’s happening, who they are, it’s beter than a soap opera, a good painting”

She liked romance
” I like romance” she said
” I like to feel all soppy,loved up, curl up on the sofa with a good read, nothing too racey mind…..I like that Barbara Cartland, takes you to the bedroom door and no further”

She liked sadness
” i like a bit of sadness” she said
” I like a good weep, a sad film, but it doesnt take much to set me off, I can cry at the drop of a hat”

So, the clown painting that hung over the fireplace had everything for her really, clowns, sad clowns, lovers looking longingly out of windows and of course the dog, faithful, loyal companion.
She loved that painting and when I was little I loved it too.
We would sit on the sofa and talk about the picture, ask questions, pose solutions, speculate on the what happened nexts.
We choose names for the dog and settled on Benny, I meant after Benny Hill, in retrosepect, I suspect that she was influenced by the vague Italianete flavour of the picture and was perhaps thinking of Benito Mussolini.

At 19, 15 months into a fine arts degree, I loathed it. It stood for everything I hated in art & design and interiors. In reading onto it.

I decided that it was up to me to educate my grandmother about proper art and the correct way to look at a painting.

I have no excuse, young people are cruel, my own daughters are often cruel themselves, sometimes knowingly and with a desperate precision but more usually, it is an unthinking cruelty, the raised eyebrow, the half heartedly muffled sigh, the face turned away mid conversation.

In my defence, I truly wanted my grandmother to appreciate great modern art, although in all honesty, my own understanding was at best somewhat sketchy.

I showed her Braque, Picasso, Rothko, Pollock. In my youthful arrrogance, i felt that it was important the she understood the great modernist movements and maybe subconsciously, I selected hard line non-representation as my main teaching tool.

My grandmother tried hard, her head tipped to one side, she would smile an overly bright smile and then comment, usually on a colour used, a shape that ” looked just like something else” and would invariabley get it wrong, miss the point.

It took me years to realise just how much I had missed the point, got it wrong and deprived my grandmother of her very real love of narrative paintings. I took away the joy of what happened next and made her focus on brush strokes and influences and the use negative shape. Concentrating on the trees, i took away the joy of being in the forest.

If this was a proper story, with structure, narrative and closure, then, now, I would tell you that the clown painting hangs in my house, that I regard it with affection, that it reminds me of the simple pleasures of surface looking, but, it doesnt and I dont.

Its a terrible painting.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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