Follow by Email

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Rembrandt Pizza and Pyjamas



While you are reading this, listen to Giant Boy's latest favourite piece by Debussy.  He is having a go at learning it and had got to the middle of page one.  Recently at a party Giant Boy disconnected the music and reconnected it to his iPhone and made them listen to Rachmaninov for six minutes before reconnecting the sound system.  They did listen (Giant Boy can be disconcerting if the mood takes him) but I am not sure anyone rushed out to buy the latest DVD.  I don't think he has been to any parties recently either.

Some nice things to start the day
  • My nails are a bright pillar box red.  This is good because when you get bored talking to me you can follow the swish and flash of my nails as my hands emphasise my words.  
  • There was evidence in the kitchen this morning of the lodgers cooking.  This is good because I worry that they are not eating properly, and may die of eating junk food and sweets in my house.  
  • I have tied up my hollyhocks in the front garden so that you won't be brained by them as you pass in a slight breeze.  They are very aggressive.
  • I have started a savings account to go and visit Eileen in Tanzania, and I have over £5 in there now.
  • Someone wrote that that the state of limbo that they struggled with, was really a state of grace.  That is a lovely thing to write.
  • I have been painting three figures on three very small canvases and they are still barely more than outlines, which is good, because that is how they feel.  This is quite liberating.
  • I have tried other teas, but Tetley is still my favourite.  I have done my homework, and now I can relax.  I have a pot beside me now, it's good to have played the field but even better to come back to the one I started with.

It has been two weeks since I left you with the account of my troubled, treasured son and his journey with drugs.  Nothing has changed, there can be no change yet, but my house is clean and I have had time to come to terms with what has happened.  Life, as they say, moves on.  It does, it does, and it takes us with it whether we like it or not.  A lady recently asked if she would survive after the husband she was sitting with as he was dying, did die.  Will I survive?  She asked.  When he has died and all of the world carries on regardless, will I be able to carry on too?  We agreed that whatever we thought about it, life goes on.  In it's own way, that was a blessing, and when we are ready, we will join life and continue to live beyond the thing that has made us think we cannot.  As my mother has said, there is still a place at the table for my son, we are keeping it ready for when he comes back to take it.  The lady sitting with her husband as he was dying took comfort from the normality of everyone else's life as it continued regardless around hers.

And so we move onwards.  Fancy Girl and I took my father to see his sister and her husband last week.  My father has lost his short term memory after a couple of strokes, is nearly blind, can't use public transport on his own and has the same conversation again and again and again. His sister, my Aunt, has dodgy hips, a walking stick, a very sound mind and is in her mid eighties.  Her husband, also of deeply sound mind, is in his nineties, and also uses a walking stick.  Dad is the youngest of his siblings at 82.  My aunt greeted Dad with her usual gentle greeting of Hello Boy, to which he replied Hullo old thing, and we all trooped out to Pizza Express.  By the time you get to proper old age, it seems, you care less for convention and more for whatever works for you within the bounds of good manners and courtesy.  My old uncle, with his life as a District Officer in Africa behind him, his days as a solicitor over and having raised his family diligently, wore his pyjamas to lunch because they were more comfortable.  He put on a tie, and a hat, and a coat, and took his wife on his arm, leading us to lunch with never a word said about his pyjamas.  It made sense to him, and to his wife, and if my father had noticed, it would have made sense to him too.

My uncle speaks softly, not always very clearly, and has survived enormous crises with his health.  I do not know him well, though I have always liked him.  We sat opposite each other over our pizzas and talked of Rembrandt. Perhaps I imagined it, but when he described Rembrandt and the effect the old Dutch masters had on him, for a moment, two or three times, he seemed overwhelmed by emotion and on the verge of tears.  It was fleeting and powerful;  I was incredibly moved by the effect that this Dutch Old Master had on a private and undemonstrative old man, my uncle, who I knew but did not really know despite a lifetime of connection through family.  I am not, he said, ambitious, nor have I ever been.  I regret that, he said.  But I disagreed, and told him so.  You are, I said, ambitious for the things of the soul.  I learned during lunch at Pizza Express, with my uncle by marriage, in his pyjamas and in his nineties, about the power of art and the joy of response to beauty.  I saw how painting can move the viewer, and that viewer can be anyone; how that viewer holds the experience deep inside for years, and how the pleasure can remain and grow over time to a point where it moves you greatly to think of it, perhaps even to tears.  I cannot remember what my uncle said about Rembrandt, that is not important.  I remember wanting to go home and look at all the Rembrandt paintings I could find, to capture their power and beauty, to find for myself a little of the magic. I know my uncle will be going to the National Gallery Rembrandt: the Late Works exhibition in October.  Perhaps I will see him there.



I painted John Horne here for A Graceful Death, using the browns and warm tones of Rembrandt.   Were he alive, Rembrandt may have disputed this and told me to get a life.

I note, with tears in my own eyes, that it is nearly 4pm and time for some more tea.  This moves me, as Rembrandt did my uncle, to extraordinary heights of happiness.  Giant Boy is practising his piano and talking at me with no need of a response, none of the lodgers are dying of hunger, and all is well.  The sun is shining through the rain clouds, and the hollyhocks are bobbing in their restraints without leaving any marks on anyone, all is as it should be.  I have not written of any work I am doing, that will come in time.  I have taken time off and away from work, and quite beyond my expectations, I am still alive and the world has not ended. In fact, no one at all has noticed.  Just because, said my friend kindly a day or so ago, you are not painting, it does not mean you are not an artist.  Yes it does, said Giant Boy.


My aunt, my father and my uncle. If Rembrandt could have taken a photo of a domestic scene instead of painting it, this may be it.