Authors: Maria Blanca Alonso
Tags: #coming of age, #bohemian, #art school, #lesbian 1st time, #college days
Maria Blanca Alonso
Published by Maria Blanca Alonso at Smashwords
Copyright 2014 Maria Blanca Alonso
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‘Things may come and things may go but the art school dance
goes on forever’: Pete Brown and Piblokto
a portrait of
the artist as a young woman
On my way into
college I paused to do a quick sketch of this old dear walking
towards me. She was a hefty piece of flesh, buttocks sticking out
at the back as a counter-balance for the weight she carried up
front, skin falling like fleshy cataracts beneath her chin, bosoms
swinging like udders, and I managed what I thought was quite a
clever little caricature, very Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman-ish
if we’re looking for a modern influence, George Grosz or maybe
Cruickshank if we think a little further back. As the woman reached
me she went up on tiptoe to take a peek at the drawing, studied it
for no more than a moment and then flared her nostrils, calling me
a cheeky young madam.
hairs hanging from her nose and they flapped like bunting as she
snorted her anger.
smiled politely. I had a slight grin on my face, impish, but
nothing too offensive.
that here!’ the woman demanded, but I shook my head and easily held
the sketchpad out of reach, a tantalising distance above her head.
I was like a mother teasing a child and it really pissed her off,
on account of our difference In age. ‘Well rub it out then!’ she
love, but this is art, it’ll outlive the both of us.’ The poor dear
was so peeved, now, her face was red and she was beginning to
sweat, so out of sheer devilment I decided to upset her a little
more. ‘In any case, the ink’s indelible,’ I added, with a
condescending frown. ‘Yes, it’s a long word, I know, but basically
it means that you can scrub and scrub as much as you like and it
won’t go away. Clever, eh?’
The old woman
didn’t seem to think so.
cheeky little cow!’ she said, and started her handbag swinging,
coming from way behind her shoulder, so I scooted out of reach with
people looking, I knew that; there always were. The jacket was what
caught the eye first, scuffed dull leather with the name on the
back, ‘Ginny da Vinci’, in polished chromium studs; then they saw
the hair, short as any bloke’s, bleached blonde and spiky, and they
gave a giggle or grunted with disgust; last of all they noticed the
jeans, not denim blue any more but faded and torn and caked with
paint of all colours, some fresh, some pastel pale. This was when
it clicked and they put a place to the face, if not a name, when
they muttered to themselves ‘she’s one of them’, meaning an art
I should have
known it was going to be difficult, being an art student in a town
like Sleepers Hill. I mean-! Sleepers Hill! What a name to conjure
with! We’re not talking about an oil painting here, that much was
for sure, not the sort of place that would’ve interested Canaletto.
What we had was a dormitory of a town where the houses were as
silent as sensory deprivation centres and no one ever woke up until
a piece of scandal –mine?- roused them from their stinking pits.
There had always been a lack of romance and sensitivity, in the
place and in its people, you only needed to see the way the locals
looked at me to understand this. Why, they wouldn’t recognise an
artist if he threw a can of Dulux at their feet and said it was one
of Pollock’s. ‘Pollocks?’, they’d mutter, and think it was another
naughty name for the genitals.
Sleepers Hill. Paris is where I should have started, and in an
earlier time, with the tarts and the Tuileries and absinthe at
tuppence a tot, the girls at the Folies Bergeres flashing their
knickers and twanging their suspenders. The Sleepers Hill of my
youth was a bit short on tarts, at least of the kind an artist
could use, the ones of character who were as keen on being
immortalised as they were on plying their trade. The women I grew
up with were all bums and beehives, tights and twin-sets, and
though there were probably suspenders they were never openly on
show, not unless you fancied standing in front of the corset shop
on the market square and have folk wonder what you were up to.
It was hard,
then, trying to be an artist in that desert of a place, so devoid
of any cultural heritage. Sleepers Hill was not an environment
where a Ginny da Vinci could blossom.
that’s what I thought, until I got to know Paula.
It was on the
same morning of my set-to with the old lady that I first really
of the way of the old hag’s flailing bag, observed by many an
onlooker, I went on my way with a step so jaunty you could almost
sense the conceit in my stride. Ahead of me was the railway
station, the station by which I would eventually leave that
miserable town, just down the hill to the right; I turn left at
that point, though, it was not quite time for me to leave yet, went
downhill towards college. The building was old brick, Victorian,
bright red in the autumn sun, and because it sat on a slope there
were a couple of dozen steps to be climbed to get to the main
entrance. ‘Sleepers Hill Mining and Technical College’ was its full
title, though there wasn't that much mining studied there any more,
not with most of the collieries closed and the industry in decline;
mainly the place was full of plasterers and bricklayers, beefy lads
who thought that the art that I did was for sluts and ponces, and
with the art school being at the top of the building there were
three floors of such boneheads to get past before I reached the
studios. Going into college could be a risky business at times,
especially for a person who stood out from the crowd, like I did,
with my distinctive jacket and my bleached hair cropped close.
That morning I
made it upstairs okay, though, because I was early or late or maybe
all the semi-skilled got too drunk the night before to pay me any
attention. Whatever the reason I made it safely into the studio,
there was no one chasing me, but Ben was there with a hammer at the
ready all the same, prepared to chase unwanted visitors.
quiet with the craftsmen this morning?’ he asked, and laid down the
hammer when I confirmed that it was. The head of that select school
of art –there were never more than two dozen students each year-
Ben looked like he’d been put together by one of the brickies
downstairs, solid and large but with bits sticking out where there
shouldn’t be; he claimed this was muscle but it looked more like
bone, there was no muscle in the places he found it, certainly not
developed to that extent.
As I was about
to take out the oils and brushes, get into the painting while the
enthusiasm and the inspiration was still there, I saw that Ben was
arranging a moth-eaten couch in the centre of the room. It was then
that I remembered; Tuesday, life class day. Nothing I could do
until everyone else arrived, then, so I sat down on a stool and
smoked a cigarette, watch Ben drape the couch with curtains and odd
bits of fabric. It was going to be a reclining pose, then, which I
preferred; I found these easier than when the model was
drifted into the studio –Gus, Jeff, Chrissie and others- and by the
time the class was due to start there were about a dozen of us
there. When we were all assembled Paula arrived, the model who also
happened to be the college secretary, wished everyone a cheery
‘good morning’ and went into the changing room, a tiny cubicle in a
corner of the studio, drawing the curtain after her; she was an
attractive woman, blonde and very slim, and though all us students
pretended to have the artist’s detached view to her naked body I
don’t suppose that there was a single one amongst the blokes who
hadn’t dreamt about her at some time or other, nor a single one of
us girls who didn’t envy her figure.
before that particular Tuesday, it was very difficult not to notice
a woman who sat stark naked in front of you for three hours at a
stretch. That Tuesday it all started to change, though, it was...
well, you’ll see what I mean.
stripped in the privacy of her cubicle us students set our drawing
boards on donkeys or easels, chatted, sharpened pencils, waited;
she finally came out wearing a short robe, walked over to the
couch, then let the robe slip to the floor.
you want me?’ she asked Ben, and someone –Gus, probably, I guess-
gave a suggestive cough as she climbed onto the couch. Ben arranged
her, an arm here, a leg like this, the head a little more that way,
his big hands pawing her all over, and when he was happy with the
pose he told us to get down to it, which we did, hunched over
drawing boards, eyes constantly flicking back and forth between
drawings and the model. Oggie Ogden, a bit of a weirdo, lit a joss
stick and clipped it to his board, a cheap perfume which stank to
high heaven; he was like some retro hippie, wanting to be different
like we all did in those days, in that town, quite fanatical about
it, even down to wearing beads around his neck, a rosary with the
cross snipped off which had his Irish Catholic mother constantly
praying for the redemption of his soul.
around the studio looking at the drawings, sometimes content with
making suggestions but more often than not making corrections. He
was a nuisance that way, especially in the life class; if he
thought there’s something wrong with a drawing he wouldn’t just rub
out the bit that offended him and neatly show how it was done. Not
Ben. No, he would scrub away with a spit-wet thumb, smudging all
the careful work, and then scribble in how he thought it should be.
Never mind that a student might have done a delicate drawing, with
soft tones and fine lines, as lyrical as a poem and as fragile as a
butterfly; Ben’s contribution would be like a scar gouged across
the rolling landscape of Paula’s body.