Towards the end of last month in a post I called A Painting with a C.V., about Raymond, a one-time pupil of mine, I told the story of how he had resolved, or partly resolved, an inner conflict by painting a picture - a really fine picture, as it turned out.
This post has something in common with it: they both centre around a boy, a pupil of mine, painting a picture of The Garden of Eden. But there, I think you will probably agree when you have read the account, all similarity ends.
First though, I need to explain something of the background. Stanley was 10 or 11 years old. He came from Jamaica, having lived there with his mother, father, brothers and sisters until he had turned school age, which I think would have been six, at which point his father decided to bring him to England to take advantage of England's superior education system. He could only afford the two of them to make the journey, so mother and siblings were left behind in Jamaica. Stanley was the chosen one, the one who would bring wealth and honour to the family. Exactly how it came about, I do not know, but Stanley was almost 9 by the time he and father had reached England and the authorities over here had caught up with them. At that point Stanley had still never been to school, so it was hardly surprising that he did not start well. Very quickly his school asked the educational psychologist to take a look at him, and he was pronounced Educationally Subnormal, as the nomenclature then was. (Today we would say that he had moderate - or even mild - learning difficulties.) It was then that father washed his hands of him. He was now the no-gooder on whom he had wasted all his money, the runt of the litter who would never amount to anything. (I thought he showed promise as a script writer, but see what you think after reading the post.) However, as far as his father was concerned, they might as well have stayed in Jamaica - though had he but considered for a moment, he might have realised that in the light of his son's special needs, Stanley was in a position to profit even more than his father had first thought, from the provision available over here. However, again not surprisingly, Stanley was soon being referred as a behaviour problem. Not long after that, he came to us, and to me. The educational psychologist asked that if possible, I arrange periods in which his behaviour would not be checked or punished, but merely observed and recorded. I had always been of the opinion that such children can not be adequately helped unless you first know them and what makes them tick, and that they cannot be well known unless they are allowed occasionally to show their true selves. The trick is to find an environment in which they can do this without disrupting (or corrupting) the rest of the group. My first choice was an art period. I had arranged a table of objets d'art (mostly liberated from items collected for a school fair) and reproductions of paintings from The Tate and elsewhere. Among these were two postcards brought from home as a contribution to our collection by one of the girls. These were Rousseau's The Dream and Savador Dali's famous melting timepieces. Stanley had acquired for himself the reputation of being a severe behaviour problem. In fact, as this short episode shows, his behaviour was of the attention-getting variety. Annoying, indeed, intended to be annoying, its success depends upon it, but not beyond the wit of man to cope with.
Stanley sidled past our inspiration table, looking away from it, surreptitiously flicking away the Dali and then palming - I think is the best word to describe it - The Dream. Why did he do that? he was an accomplished thief. Cynics said he had just been practising, but if that had been the intention I am sure I would not have seen it go, even though I had been watching him. He could have taken the piano without being spotted! No, if I saw him take it, he had meant me to see him. Whatever, he settled himself behind a drawing board which he rested on his knees and propped against his desk. The reproduction was propped against a water jar. From time to time his two eyes would appear briefly over the top of the board or round the edge of it - vertically!
Silence for a bit - and then a monologue. I should point out that there were gaps in the monologue, well-judged, mostly, for effect, waiting for his words to sink in, I suspect.
I'm a-goin-a do Eve first... put 'er in...
her titties first, I think - and then 'er hair...
all black and curly-wurly, lovely grub...!
Gotter cross 'er legs coz she's a lady!
An' now I doin' Adam... here he comes...
He sees Eve dreaming wide awake.
"Wow!" he thinks, because 'e sees 'er titties...
only now it looks like she got three...
"Three, is it?" Adam says. "How come, my sister?"
But arf a mo', the middle one's a magic mushroom...
and she's arf eaten it... He says:
"And what you been a-up to, woman?"
An' she say:
O, Adam, the ole serpent there, he say if I eat all the mushrooms..."
"Get on with it woman... what if you do eat all the mushrooms?"
"I will see how all the magic spells in all the world are made..."
An' Adam says... "An' can you girl?"
She tells him how the trees are full of stars
an' all the planets in their courses spin around the twigs... An' Adam says:
"I'll have a bit of that, I think!" and bites the mushroom on 'er breast...
and soon 'e don't know which is tittie and which is mushroom,
so he says:
"An' that ole serpent, he teach you well, ole girl, coz now I don't know you tittie from you magic mushroom...
But you should cover them things up, sweetheart, for they be powerful bright
to bring down any man..."
An' she wild! She veery wild... She get up and she slap his face good an' hard.
"The Gooooooooooood LLLLawd, he gave me these 'ere titties, boy," she say. "You hear me boy? The goooooood LLLLlawd did...! An' no one aint-a-gone-a tellllll me what to do with mar titties, save the Gooooood LLLLLLawd... Hallelujah boy!"
The eyes came round the board for the umpteenth time.
An' that mean you, too, man-behind-the-desk, there! No one ant-a-gone-a tell me what to doooo with marrrr bones, save that same Goooooood LLLLLawd... Hallelujah man!
The monologue petered out at this point, so I wandered round the room, coming last to Stanley. He had painted a cartoon, night-club world, with speech bubbles, though the speech in them was indecipherable. It was a world of strippers, booze and couplings. Surprise, surprise, Eve's legs were not crossed as he had said.
A busty blonde was dancing with the snake.
I pointed to the bubble coming out of Eve's mouth, and asked what it said.
He replied: "You just like all the men, you only wanting one thing, boy!"
an' Adam, he saying "Yup, coz that's what the Goooooooood LLLLLord gave it for!"
An' wanna know what Adam sees? he asked, looking up at me.
I said that I would very much like to know what Adam can see.
He sees man building houses five miles high
an' painting smoke across the sky. He sees the blue dome over Eden
an' he sees it blow away all that hot air that's blown out by that dick in the white coat.
Later he added skyscrapers to the background.
I thought this might be an opportune moment to use this as my post, being that we have been having a discussion partly about the link between speech and painting. Okay, this is not quite what any of us had in mind, but it could be seen as a comment of sorts.
As another side issue, there is the question of the coincidence of both stories revolving around The Garden of Eden. Not down to any influence from me, I do assure you, and not such a coincidence as it might seem, for, looking back, I am quite surprised at the number of occasions on which, with an absolutely free choice, children have raised or used the story. Even children who could think of no other story from The Bible, would know and use that one. The second most popular Biblical story was Noah and the flood. Nothing else came near. The New Testament was nowhere. Those two stories must resonate very deeply with something in our psyches, I think.
The moon petals the sea. Rose petals the sea. Stone sea. Stone petals. Rose petals of stone. Stone rising before me. Sea moves. How moves...
It all depends, you see, how you go about it. And that I cannot tell you, for that will be dictated by you and by you knowing your friends...
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