I painted that woman seated. She should not have been seated, she would have been better off standing, but it was too late by then, when I realized. I left her seated, with a bird on her lap. Strange. How many women sit for a portrait with a farmyard bird on their laps, not many I tell you, but that was the type she was. Colourful, indistinct and un-delineated, her character, her rough definition on the canvas board. Roughed in, she did want anything more. I would have wanted a child coming in from the side, slightly behind her line of vision, she would turn to look at him. They would converse in some babble of little consequence and she would hand the bird to him, and from that point our conversation would take flight as it were.
‘How old are you woman?’
Forty-six years old last May.
I’m surprised, but I don’t show it. She looks older but it can be hard to tell. She is not unattractive; there is strong country charm present which weaves its own spell. The boy stands mute in the corner, off to the side. I smile at him but there is no bribing him to speak. It is not shyness, there is defiance in his eyes. Even now, he is his own man and when he grows up he will be stubborn. He will insist that he knows all, a jack of all trades. Able to tell all what they should do and how they should do it. Well then, boy, wring the neck of that chicken in your arms. But I will not say those words.
‘Who is he’ I nod in the direction of the boy.
‘My son’ she replies.
‘Son or grandson’ I ask, knowing I’m causing trouble, but what the hell. Let’s shake things up a bit. She ignores my question. She has the size of me, she knows my intentions before I know them myself.
‘Tell me something about yourself, something about your life’
‘My mother died when I was ten’
It was not what I was expecting and I don’t know what to say. I toy with the word ‘sorry’ but the moment passes. I wish she had said something else. I find it hard to concentrate. I tell her this.
She laughs, she now has the upper hand and I don’t care. She begins to ask me questions, where did I buy my jeans? ‘Charity shop’ I say, truthfully. ‘How tall are you?’ ‘How tall do you think I am’? Those are stupid questions that I can’t be bothered replying to, I tell her this and soon there is silence again. I work in this silence. The boy is now asleep under a tree, the bird has wandered off and I feel my own eyes heavy in the mid-day sun.
When the child awakes he fined me gone. The woman will be working, doing her daily chores. He will believe it was all some dream he had and he will be right. Each time he sleeps he dreams even if he can’t remember it and it frustrates him, this life continuing on without him, right under his nose.
Perched high on sea shore rocks,
Industrial skies and plaid seas, there is no immortality.
She speaks of her own myth – the mermaid.
There can be no believers here
Still there is existence, and her’s the strangest truth.
She is there, watching silent waters motioning.
That is enough for now. She is alive.
The need for heavy black outlines in our lives, and no-nonsense impasto, even on such finesse details as cello strings. The desire to make real.