Those who have only known me in my more recent incarnations will not be able to imagine from what an impossible, not to say thoroughly unpleasant, youth this now charming senior citizen was sprung. Example: among my more vivid adolescent memories, schoolboy and art student, is one (a composite memory of many such occasions) in which I am mounting the steps to the hallowed portal of The Tate Gallery - now, of course, Tate Britain. Around me are couples and small groups of eager visitors, all enthusiastically (i.e. loudly) discussing the works they have come to see. But as we enter those august portals a hush descends. It is as if we had entered Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral. Inside, the couples and the small groups stand, often slightly bowed, before the graven images. Occasionally an individual will detach himself from his companion and step forward, point with a tiny circling motion of the forefinger to an insignificant brush mark in the bottom left-hand corner of a twenty-hectare canvas, look meaningfully back towards his companion, and then return, walking backwards (of course!), never turning his back upon the object of his veneration. Soon it becomes apparent that these high priests are mumbling before their deities. Prayers? Mantras? Incantations? And this is where I show how difficult I can be in civilized society: I take to eavesdropping. Naturally, having long since reached the age of discretion, I would not now dream of doing any such thing, but back then I move in, my excuse being that I hope to catch words of enlightenment from those guru-sounding individuals. That at any rate is my initial justification, though whether it is to remain my primary motive is debatable, for later I take to jotting down their words in my note/sketch books - obviously more for amusement than edification. And recently I came across one of those books. The following dialogues are, if you like, reconstructed from those brief notes:
No, nothing's unimportant.
No, no, no. Nothing is what is important!
But difficult to paint.
More difficult to not paint, if you're him.
That sums his work up beautifully.
Not painting. All his canvases are not-paintings.
Ah, so true!
I love this. You can tell what it was like on that beach, the colours tell you.
Hot, I should imagine!
No, everything is glowing. It is late evening.
The sun's high.
Yes, they are caught in a two-time narrative, like a Picasso caught from two viewpoints or in two perspectives.
His palette worries me.
Really? Too restricted?
No, the colours seem to clash a bit.
What, green and black?
Which one is the problem, do you think?
Both of them, really.
It's a puzzle, don't you think?
Or the answer to one - a Eureka.
He's saying life's a puzzle.
Or it's the answer.
That gets us nowhere.
Like life. Round and back to where we started.
Or he's feeling his way towards a formula...
Could be, I suppose...
It's not "all", is it, do you think?
How you mean?
Art is togetherness. This is bittiness.
That's the bit bothers me... what is it?
Not of. For.
Could be just a bit of paint...
Or a shadow even - what could a shadow symbolize? Or the shadow of an unseen symbol!
If so, it's not communicating, is it?
Not on one level.
Not on any.
Deliberately. He doesn't go beyond that point, see?
The point of non-communication. That's where it stops.
So what's the point?
To say: thus far and no further.
But that's communicating.
On one level, yes. His level, the level he doesn't go beyond.