The Next Narrative -” I paint your pain and feel it for you”
One upon a time, there was a sin eater, well not quite a sin eater, this girl was a pain eater, she could take your pain and feel it for you and leave you light and joyous and free of all the pain that weighed you down.
Of course, she didn’t know, not at first, that she was a pain eater. She thought that she would be a great artist, a portrait artist and that she would travel the world, painting the rich and famous and would by degree become rich and famous herself.
At art school, staff and students found her ambitions remarkably old-fashioned. They didn’t understand art that had no concept, art that couldn’t be assembled from ready mades, they mocked her lack of digital involvement, her paint spattered jeans, her lack of Saatchi sponsorship.
Sometimes they would stand at the door way to her little work area at the unfashionable end of the college, dangerously close to the illustrators and the graphic designers and watch her, yield paint and brushes, produce images that looked exactly like the objects in front of her easel.
“But, what’s it for?” they asked ” Whats’ the point of painting things that look exactly like real life?”
Sometimes, she tried to explain, tried to share the joy and mystery of manipulating tone and shade and color, but mostly she just ducked her head and went back to painting her fruit bowls and kittens and her own hands and feet.
Some of the young men and not so young tutors saw beyond this tragic affection for the life-like, they noticed her raven dark hair, her snow-white skin, her rosebud lips. They liked to watch her work, often found that afterwards, walking home, late at night, they felt somehow lighter, better. Sometimes, they wondered about trying painting themselves, but in the harsh light of day, in seminar rooms where they listened to lectures on the marketing of art, the hype of the self, they shook their heads and applied themselves to the getting of an agent and a cover on The Face magazine.
She didn’t attend these seminars, floated instead from her tiny attic room to her painting room, ignored the awkward silences when tutors faced with a perfect rendition of a hand or a pewter jar, had nothing to say and simply smiled when other students invited her to take part in digital installation pieces or community projects on dingy east London estates.
She graduated, mostly because no-body could find any real reason to not award her a degree, her final degree show, medium sized canvases, portraits of the cleaners and canteen staff form around the college gained a sort of notoriety, the only show that year not bought up in its entirety by the Saatchi gallery. The cleaners, however liked the paintings, offered her small sums of money and hung the pictures above their fire places, next to their flat screen TVs and she went out into the big bad art world.
And she struggled, the people who liked her paintings were not the kind of people who bought art and finally, she was reduced to painting pet portraits, it was an art form where accuracy, realism was all important and she discovered that people who would never buy a painting of themselves, were, oddly, more than happy to hand over their hard-won cash for a pencil sketch of their pug, their horse rendered in acrylic, even , but not often enough, a full size oil of the cats.
However, she might never have found her gift, the gift of pain eating, if it hadn’t been for Mctavish.
Mctavish was a cat, an elderly, ailing cat, whose owner wanted more than the usual pet portrait deal, wanted the artist to meet the cat, spend time with him, understand his intrinsic cat being. So, unusually, the artist came to draw the cat from life, came to produce a proper portrait.
Mctaivish, sat on a cushion, eyes clouded from pained joints, fur thinning, he was usually still and silent, almost a perfect portrait sitter and while his owner fussed in the background, the young artist painted him, carefully, accurately, using all her skill with paints and light and shade and something miraculous happened.
As the portrait developed, from rough pencil sketches to tentative brush strokes, the real life Mctavish began to blossom, his fur regained its gloss, eyes brightened and on the very last day of painting, suddenly he stretched to his full length and leapt with one fluid, elegant movement from the sofa where he had lain for so long, onto a book-case, up the curtains and then out of the cat flap and onto the dewy grass of the garden, where he stood, statue still for a moment before pouncing on a unspecting blackbird and then dragging his victim into the thicket of blackcurrant bushes at the bottom of the garden.
After that, pet portrait commissions came in thick and fast and always the same outcome, an ancient horse turning away from the artist and her easel and cantering across a field, kicking his heels in the delight of movement, a dog re-discovering the pleasure of fetch and sticks and rubber balls.
The word went round, the young artist could not only produce a life-like painting, the kind of thing that made a pleasant addition to any sitting room, but the very process of portraiture would give your pet many more years of health and happiness.
She tried to ignore all of this, tried too to ignore the occasional ache in her hips, the sight that sometimes, just for a few moments would blur, become cloudy. She focussed on her paints, her brushstrokes, her need to paint exactly what she could see.
She became an extremely skilled animal portrait maker, a journey man artist and made a good, even excellent living and felt that she could be happy.
And then, one day, the inevitable happened.
She received a phone call, a well-known captain of industry, a great and gooder, but now elderly, frail, failing, asked her, no, summoned ,her to paint his portrait.
( to be continued)