Me and my artist

Monday, 26 April

I realise that I have been writing a substantial amount of theology-babble recently and I have neglected to talk about progress with the portraiture work and, most importantly, developments in the working relationship between Leonard and I. On the whole our sessions have been very enjoyable, due in part to the fact that Leonard is easy to talk to and he has a mischievous sense of humour that can rival my own at times. For instance, he takes cuttings from newspaper articles and he edits the headline with black paint and white corrector fluid so that it reads something amusing or he will include my name, his name or the name of a celebrity or historical figure. These cuttings never fail to make me laugh (even though some of them address serious and tragic events!) and they often relieve the tension that has built up during a long session. 

I have been surprised to learn that although Leonard lives a fairly reclusive lifestyle, he is conversant in current affairs and he is familiar with advancements in computing, the internet and mobile phone technology, but I assume that Luke keeps him informed about these things. I have also discovered that Leonard is in regular correspondence with a considerable number of people from numerous countries around the world, as is evident from the brightly-coloured stamps on his mail. When I enquire about these letters he will tell me about his travels to visit his friends and acquaintances and the adventures that he has had exploring these exotic locations. It is surprising that he makes such a great effort to maintain these friendships and yet he chooses to spend so much time alone.

On a personal note, I am learning to relax and feel less self-conscious under Leonard’s analytical eye and we are establishing a regular working pattern that is helping the sessions to flow far easier than before. The inevitable drink/food/toilet break has been polished down to the briefest moment of disruption after which we quickly recreate the correct position to continue with our work - ‘rest your arm further down your lap….turn your chair a little more towards me…lift your chin higher’ - after one or two minutes of repositioning then we are good to continue. When the light gets too bad, Leonard will pack away his drawing board, wash his hands in the bathroom sink, prepare drinks for us and we will discuss how work is progressing - which reminds me, on my first visit to Elmfield House I had wondered why the bathroom sink was stained with a multitude of colours and now I realise that it has endured many years of cleaning Leonard’s paint-covered hands! Art is a messy business. Sometimes Leonard’s hands, face and bald head are covered with a rainbow of colours where he has smudged pastel onto the paper and touched his face or scratched his head. If he has been using charcoal then he often resembles a coalminer by the end of a session. Thankfully I avoid the grubby aspects of our work but the smell of the workroom has permeated so deeply into my clothes that, even though I wash them in plutonium-grade washing powder, each time I open my wardrobe at home I am greeted by the strong whiff of turpentine and paint fumes.

In addition to our work on the portraiture piece, Leonard is once again taking photographs of me. Most of the photos are deliberately posed, but occasionally he will catch me by surprise for a candid shot or he will focus on one minor aspect of my clothing that has fascinated him (he took one particularly striking photo of the glass buttons that are sewn onto my best lace top). One of my favourite photographs took an entire afternoon to set up for only a few seconds of camerawork. It is a half-profile shot with my hair tied high against the back of my head and a few tendrils of hair falling down onto my shoulders. The lighting makes me look rather sickly but that only adds to the overall charm of the picture. When I look at the prints that Luke brings to the sessions a few days later I am reminded of the date, the weather, the topic of conversation in the workroom and even the thoughts that passed through my mind upon the very second that the camera shutter clicked. But, in the case of this particular photograph, all that I can recall is the tightness of the choker around my throat.

When we are not working or talking about work, we are usually eating or preparing lunch. The kitchen cupboards are fully stocked with jams, cakes and biscuits and there are always yoghurts, cheeses and cold meats for sandwiches in the fridge, but strangely – and somewhat frustratingly at times - Leonard never has a ready supply of staple food items such as bread and milk. The bread bin is stuffed full of Cadbury’s chocolate bars and Leonard insists that since we are situated near to Bournville and the Cadbury estate then he is not being greedy but rather ‘contributing to the local economy’, which always makes me laugh. On one occasion Leonard asked me to name my favourite dessert and - without giving it much thought - I answered ‘profiteroles’. In hindsight I wish that I had given more consideration to my reply as he has since acquired a habit of stocking the fridge with mountains of profiteroles in preparation for my visits. We eat a box of them between us at least once a week and this has become such a regular occurrence that I have warned him that he will need to buy a wider canvas for my portraits in future!

There is often an odd smell lingering in the kitchen from a meal that Leonard has cooked the night before and he will save any leftovers in the fridge in case Luke and I get peckish the next day and fancy scavenging for scraps. I regularly find half-opened bottles of wine in the workroom if Leonard has entertained a visitor on the previous evening and Leonard will save the remaining wine so that we can finish it off together (I have developed a taste for his beloved Armagnac too and I’m always happy to join him in a glass at the end of a long afternoon). Thankfully Leonard has accepted that I will not be converted to a fellow tea or coffee addict and so he is storing large crates of orange juice under the kitchen sink especially for my visits, but he has, however, convinced me to sample a concoction of herbal teas that he assures me will aid concentration and help to combat fatigue.

My payment for our work is always in cash and although I insist that payment is not necessary since Leonard provides a generous lunch and the improvements to my self-confidence are more than adequate recompense alone, he usually stuffs a plastic bag of pound coins into my coat pocket when I am out of the room or he has an elaborately decorated brown envelope that he will demand that I take from him before leaving the house (his methods of payment are becoming more inventive and elaborate by the week). He is such a sweet man and he is always complimentary, deeply respectful and infuriatingly apologetic, but the most remarkable thing about our friendship is this: I have anticipated for some time now - and with a sickening dread - a request for a nude shot, but I doubt that it will come. Leonard is evidently not disposed to befriending young women with a view to asking them to strip off, which is a welcome surprise given the disturbing anecdotes that I have heard about this profession.

Although I am completely at ease in Leonard’s company, I find Luke’s presence at our sittings to be disruptive and it is difficult to explain why this is the case. Luke’s personality changes dramatically by the day and this often dictates the mood in the workroom; sometimes he is extremely charming and approachable, full of heart-melting smiles and a pleasure to spend time with, while on other occasions he can be terribly aloof, his face falls into the most solemn frown and he simply slouches in the cream leather armchair, awaiting his turn and wallowing in a grumpy, Byronic fog of melancholy. Most days he will just take a book from the shelves and sit reading in a corner of the workroom like a patient passing the time in a doctor’s waiting room until it is his turn to take the chair. He is particularly fond of the works of the seventeenth-century poet John Donne and Leonard has taken account of this by incorporating quotations from Donne into his sketches of Luke. There is, for example, a wonderful sketch of Luke in a wooden frame on the table in the workroom at the bottom of which Leonard has written the following verses from Donne:

‘Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.’

Leonard tries admirably at times to prompt a conversation between the three of us and when he is successful the atmosphere in the workroom becomes quite animated and we have the most fascinating discussions, but if Luke is in a dour mood then he can be very standoffish and I detect a hint of condescension in his voice as though he considers himself to be superior to me. I suspect that the intensive nature of the environment in which we most of spend our time together is largely to blame for this impression, as well as the fact that Leonard requires Luke to wear formal attire for their work (waistcoats, smart jackets, shirts etc) and he resembles an elegant Victorian gentleman most of the time, so I feel quite the philistine in comparison! I am also acutely aware that I find Luke to be extremely attractive and consequently I may be paying particularly close attention to his behaviour and reading nuances into his words that would barely raise an eyebrow coming from anyone else...

So there we are; a portrait of me and my artist. Apologies for the hotchpotch nature of this post but I am writing as the points occur to me. No doubt there are many other strange quirks and rituals from the workroom that I will remember throughout this afternoon but for now, much like Leonard’s wines, I’m sure they will keep for another day.