Visiting Artists - my father Prometheus and why I use his art in my work
In my adolescence, I visited the artist, my father, in his London flat. There was a room designated for the studio; I could not smell turps or white spirit; I could not see a Francis Bacon tsunami licking the prosaic off the floorboards, spitting it into the tide of detritus lapping the skirting. Here the artist no longer speaks of childish things to a child artist. He is now, I realise, the professional lexicographer; verbal expression is the test and the tease.
Doorways were a feature of this space. Caught in a corridor, I stood before the one for the studio and glanced at another; the guest room. Who are the guests of the artist when he is away from home; living in this flat away from the anchor and the source, as he called my mother. He had a pretty turn of phrase. Away from the summer lawns, replacing them with something, someone, people that held him hostage for weeks; anchored and weighed, adrift from the banal and paternal. I am today’s visitor and we do not speak of childish things. He has become a resident writer in another orbit and I have become his caller; although welcome, the space shifts and shapes around the presence of more preferred visitors; patrons, lodgers and paying guests; the bill payer, the emissary, the trigger, the executor; I only brought a doorway back to neglected summer lawns.
It is fourteen years since he died in Exeter and I surveyed the wreckage of the artist’s life in residency. The spread of coats and jackets. Unwashed clothes upon the bed, the floor ripe with neglect; the kitchen, in the freezer ready made meals, frozen, suspended between hunger and memory. Free gifts from magazines, brought to the house only to show someone lives at this address. The remains of Chinese takeaway, human contact crossed with silver, loneliness. The wreckage of paper, a lifetime of lists, the lifetime since last I left, of jottings, poignant, stupid, clever, plots, settings, character, point of view; none of them mine, very few his. I came to clear a way back, through the rational searching in lists and plot, only to find, disappointingly, a message that artists who were men offered to women back then; I am the artist, not you; I am the writer you are not. The misogynist artist’s love token, a padlock of words ruling the lock.
In the guest room a bed was made; I had arrived without luggage, I would not stay. I found his art school folder, remembered some promises he made when I was young and when he made me laugh. I scan, cut and glue our lives together, each of us guests in each other’s work; I weigh and anchor him back to me and women’s art