Monday, 8 February 2021

Blogging Week - Monday - with short fiction

 Hello, and welcome to a week of daily blog posts.... Yes, I am 'going retro' for this week. I am not necessarily expecting this week of blog posts to re-ignite your blogging world! However, I do hope to use this as an opportunity to re-introduce myself, write a little more about my work and share some different things. Also, if you are inspired to write a blog post or two, please do comment and let me know, as I would like to read - and I will share links to blogs I find interesting.

I will write more about blogging, social media for artists etc... later in the week but for now an introduction - of sorts....

recent sketchbook pages

To introduce myself to you, over again or perhaps for the first time.... 

Before I thought of myself as a visual artist I was a writer, a poet.... I studied for a MA in Creative Writing (passing with distinction, with a group of poems which would later gain me an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors way back in the 90s)... I still consider myself a writer who paints, or a storyteller who stitches, or a poet who keeps sketchbooks, or a doll-maker who likes to create characters... You can see there is an overlap, yes... The book is my home and that's probably why I like sketchbooks and making handmade books so very much.... I prefer painting in a book to anything, to be honest.

Years ago I would share my creative writing on my blog - with a weekly post for a while. So today, I am sharing a short story: 'Lost in a Landscape'. It is a short read, a fictional work.

I wrote this story last year during one of those windows of time - I can't remember why or how - but I found the time to write. For this story I decided to choose a male narrator with a different perspective from my own. This past weekend, thinking again about this story and visiting galleries, and how much I miss that opportunity, I painted the artwork you will see below...

LOST IN A LANDSCAPE  - (a short story)

The girl pointed to the small landscape painting. It was on a dark gallery wall, just above her shoulders. She pointed but did not touch. The woman she was with (her mother I think) had turned away and was looking at a tiresome yet pretty portrait on an adjacent wall. Now the girl held her hand over her mouth and frowned at the painting. She was breathing heavily and squinting. She rocked on her heels and whispered to herself. She stared and stared. 

 ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘What do you see?’ I am aware it is not the best idea to make conversation with a young girl without a formal invitation. A person of my age has to be careful because we are partially invisible to anyone below a certain age and because we speak in a formal tongue that may alarm or close off any possible conversation. 

The girl lifted her shoulders and made a big deal of shrugging. She was perhaps a teenager, or twenty at the most. She stared at the painting, the nowhere landscape above her head. 

 ‘You seem so interested in it,’ I said. 

 She continued with her interest but with her arms folded. I felt, then, certain she would not wish to have any conversation with me, a once handsome man now old and with a squint. So I turned my gaze, became suddenly interested in a grotesque portrait of an avenging angel. After some moments I walked away. I pushed the heavy door to wander from one gallery room to the next. Staring at the incorrigible beauty of a Rubens, I fumbled in my trouser pocket for a mint and considered how I would have paid good money to have known what the girl was thinking. You might think I had hope of seeing her again, of seeing her reaction to other works. But that was not the case. I just wanted to know why she had been interested, so very compelled, by that small and dare I saw it rather wishy-washy landscape. 

 Back then, in those years, I visited this gallery every Wednesday afternoon. It was part of my weekly routine. Afterwards I would walk to a market square and sit at a cafe table, if one was available. I would sit and read my newspaper before heading home on the train. Home in the near suburbs. In those days I was adventurous. But the landscape. Not me, not I. The landscape. It had been small and the trees appeared to be ready to float away. More sky than land. In the middle distance a stern little building and further back a steeple, the slightest brushes of a hint at a town or city. Nothing very special about it. Except perhaps the yellowish glow, which, on reflection, could have been age. To be honest I considered it a wall filler. 

 As I moved to leave the gallery there she was in the shop, browsing postcards. I never buy postcards. I find they collect dust. I prefer the real thing on my walls. I have a handful of abstract paintings purchased from the local university open studios - whatever they call it - sale of student work. Nothing tasteful. I can’t abide tasteful art. And just a few good drawings by Henry Moore. Not because I am a particular fan, but because I inherited them from my brother who cared to collect things that might go up in value. Anyway, enough of my meagre art collection. 

 ‘But they don’t have a postcard of it!’ The girl was saying. And I knew she was talking of the small landscape. I was annoyed at myself now because I could not for the life of me remember the painter’s name. 

 ‘We’ll get home and look it up on the computer and then print a picture out,’ the woman said to the girl. 

‘But it won’t be the same, will it?’ I said just loud enough for the girl to hear. 

The woman wandered off to look at some glittering display at the other end of the shop. The girl looked at me and then looked away, stuffed her hands into her jacket pocket. She was not as young as I had first thought. She was small but hardening against the world. There was only so much time left for her, only so much time until she stopped wondering. 

 ‘Hello again, I saw you looking at that landscape painting and I asked you what you were seeing. But I am afraid I startled you. And I am a stranger. Forgive me.’ At least I tried. I turned and browsed a shelf of books on sculpture. 

Then a tug at my coat sleeve. ‘I painted that you know,’ the girl whispered, hurriedly. ‘I painted it over and over until it was right. I painted the sky and then I painted the wet grass and then I made the wet grass into a pool of light and then I dotted the birds in the sky and made the sign of the cross - the church steeple. I painted it. As soon as I saw it I knew. I knew it.’ 

 ‘I believe you,’ I said, trying not to be too delighted. ‘I believe you my dear.’ 

 ‘Do you?’ The girl glanced toward the end of the shop, where her mother stood. 

 ‘Of course. If you say you have a memory of something, who am I, a complete stranger, to judge your integrity my dear?’ 

 ‘I don’t remember any other painting, though. Only that one,’ she said and seemed sad about this. ‘Does it matter?’ She shrugged. 

 ‘When did you paint the painting, do you remember? Was it long ago?’ 

 The girl shrugged. ‘Must have been. A different lifetime.’ 

 ‘Can you remember any sensation - forever me, any particular detail that you left out?’ 

 ‘Why would I leave anything out?’ The girl looked confused. She shook her head and appeared to be thinking, almost debating with herself. 

 ‘What now? What are you remembering? Who are you remembering of yourself?’ I knew I was talking twaddle, but I was enjoying the process. Forgive an old man, I wanted to say, but I haven’t had this much conversation for months and months! Of course I knew my slight German accent might have been helping in this situation. If someone thinks you are ‘foreign’ they might, just might, forgive a little over-enthusiasm. 

 ‘It was a long time ago. Was it before now?’ the girl asked me. It was my turn to shrug. 

‘My dear, I would think so. For the painting to be in this Gallery, at any rate.’ 

 ‘Why is it here though? And why can’t I find a postcard?’ She whispered but was mad with anger. 

 ‘I am sorry you cannot find a postcard. I would like one also,’ I said. 

 ‘Did you like the painting then, the painting I painted?’ 

 ‘Of course,’ I lied. 

 Then the woman, the mother, re-appeared by the girl’s side. I diverted my eyes toward books. When the woman asked the girl a question she shrugged. They left the shop. The next time I visited the gallery there had been a re-arranging and I could not find the small landscape. I did see other works by the same painter - I recognised them as his work. I will admit I have the name of the artist scribbled down somewhere and have now forgotten it.


a work of fiction - copyright Cathy Cullis 2020-21

Tomorrow: I will attempt a small day-in-the-life blog post!


Michele Karch- Ackerman said...

I loved your story! And loved hearing about how you are a writer who paints. Or a doll maker who makes little books. I feel like I am in a similar place only the opposite. I am a trained artist who writes. Really, I make art installations that tell stories and involve garments that I sew. I am a sort of death doula for ghosts via wardrobes. And I'm recently tiptoeing into the world of writing...letting go of the husk of my sculptural installations and working with the germ of the idea...via words. Each process is very different. It is SO delightful to read about someone in the world who does similar work (only opposite) as making clothing for ghosts can be lonely. Thanks so much for this deeply inspirational interlude!Your story was lovely. It reminds me a little of Roald Dahl's short stories mixed with Katherine Mansfield and a touch of Virginia Woolf with a splash of Shirley Jackson. Loved it! I want to know more about that girl and her painting but a short story is PERFECT.

Jane said...

Great read thank you. I was there in the gallery with them. Staring and listening. Now wondering.

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