a day in the life


The painter wakes earlier than he’d hoped, drinks instant coffee, attends to the news, procrastinates, walks around the garden which is daily losing its order and legitimacy, procrastinates, makes more coffee and compels himself to carry it into his workroom, which for a number of reasons does not deserve to be called a studio, where he deals with a few low-level chores, while carefully avoiding looking at his previous day’s work. Eventually he confronts it, and it is everything he anticipated.


The painting is hopeless. Not only has it failed to be anything, it shows no prospect of ever becoming anything. It does not offer a hint or glimmer of possibility. What isn’t just a mess is tightly overdrawn. Morning light reveals colours that do not cohere or contrast or do anything engaging at all. There is no spontaneity but neither is there good draughtsmanship, and there is no idea. No life.


The cat jumps up on the windowsill outside. The painter opens the casement, which according to the daily ritual pushes the cat off into the scrubby lavender below the window. It complains as it always does, in a nearly human way that implies some oriental in the mongrel, and clumsily scrambles back up and into the room. Having licked paint and other toxic tongue-fouling fluids out of its coat before, it moves with caution. It is a tatty-coated late middle-aged spayed female tabby with a tint of mustard. It is the only cat the painter has ever seen fall off quite stable things like chairs and tables, suddenly and for no apparent reason. It could have chromium or titanium poisoning that affects its brain and other organs. So, probably, does the painter, from years of holding cogitative cigarettes in stained and splattered fingers.

The painter doesn’t know whether to obliterate yesterday with a thick layer of cheap grey undercoat, or try to make it better in some way that has yet to occur to him. He can’t remember what was happening at the point when there was something in the painting or his mind or both that made some kind of sense, the value of a painting often lying in some serendipitous breath that inflated it from the state of being inconsequentially ordinary into something that was worth looking at repeatedly. Thinking like this makes the painter feel uncomfortably earnest. It leads him to contemplate the unpleasantness of agents and galleries, and the increasingly less alarming fact that he hasn’t had an exhibition for ten years and at the three before that nobody bought anything.

The painter has got used to and rather enjoys not smoking, rarely drinking, driving a car only when he can borrow one, and generally not buying things he doesn’t actually need or want, at the same time discovering that the extreme privilege of not having to perform the quotidian abasements before Mammon that had previously blighted his life, has led him, sometimes, into previously unconsidered places that are not immediately susceptible to judgement, do not require permission or approval as long as they have no substantial material cost, and do not require the persuasion or collusion of anybody else before they can be begun. And if they don’t work, whatever that actually means given that the definition is not required to include the acquisition of reputation or money, it simply doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s good enough just to stave off dementia for that little bit longer. The best thing about all this is going for very long periods not feeling impelled or obliged to consider aspects of suicide in an immediately technical fashion. Even though death itself is a common subject of cogitation, this is on the ground that it comes to all of us and needs to be carried through as well as possible, thus requiring investigation and planning, practice where possible and appropriate, acknowledging that while life does not deliver guarantees, it is likely that a mean life will lead to a mean death, and a generous death is worth aspiring to.

While all this thinking is going on the painting isn’t getting any better.

So start.

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