In the middle of what may yet turn out to be the beginning of the end of the Anthropocene, and a week knee-deep in the wreckage of cancellations – holiday, day out, family dinner – I have managed to find something to be a little smug about, and I’m hanging on to it as hard as I can.
Before the shutdown, I didn’t have too many plans for the year in terms of exhibitions and such. It’s all quite tiring and expensive and I felt like a break would be nice. But painting is one of my favourite displacement activities ( another one, baking, has been knocked on the head by a lack of flour in the shops), so I have been doing quite a lot of it. I have four or five paintings on boards underway, and I am slowly and laboriously making a set of prints for a friend’s birthday. And yesterday (the bit I’m smug about) I finally finished a painting I have been mucking about with for about a year.
The subject’s a great heap of fruit and veg on a stall in Borough Market that I took pictures of a few years ago. I knew it would be a pig before I started it; the composition is busy, the colour balance difficult. The only reference pictures I had were over-exposed, blown out by the bright sunshine. Still, it looked to be worth a try.
Probably two thirds of the work was done by the first time I got sick of it. After that I fell into a cycle of getting it out every couple of months, slapping on a bit more paint and abandoning it for something less tedious. The most annoying part, the basketwork, ended up being painted over four or five times between intervals on the naughty step.
It had become something of a chore. Sometimes paintings like that end up with me slapping a coat of white on them and reusing the canvas, and this one only escaped that fate by being buried in a big stack of canvases, out of sight. I found it yesterday while rummaging around and decided grudgingly to give it another hour before dinner.
In fact, it took less than that, maybe forty minutes. Somehow I had managed to work out what was fine, what needed fixing and how to fix it. Now it is finally what I wanted it to be when I started it, and propped up under the television so I can go on being smug about it for just a little longer; until it’s time to worry about things that matter more.