It was 1971 and my mum took her first born to Whitchapel Art Gallery. I like to imagine, when i usually tell this story, that i was the baby in the pram that time, but visiting the Whitechapel Archives, i discovered it could only have been my sister because i was born a year later, in ’72.
It was 1971, spring, most likely and David Hockey’s first exhibition was on show. My mum contemplated buying one of the paintings, a series of four, Love paintings, painted when Hockney studied at The Royal College of Art. It was on sale for £48. When she first told me this story, we used to fall about laughing, ‘oh my god, we’d be rich – why the hell didn’t you buy it?‘.
‘If i had bought it, then what would i have given your dad and your sister for dinner? £48 was a lot of money in those days. ‘And, anyway‘ she whispered, laughing, ‘I never would have sold it!’.
Maybe i am romanticising this too much, but i imagine my mum looking at the picture, and momentarily grappling with whether or not to buy it. Aesthetic desire crushed by the burning reality of everyday life and feeding your fledgling family. Naturally, I wanted to glimpse this ‘love painting’, indeed I tried to track it down – my mum described the colour red in the painting – ‘it reminded me of the love and warmth of friendship‘.
Serendipitously a love painting showed up in a Royal Academy exhibition. But it wasn’t red. I did get to see a love painting, a year or so ago, but i don’t think this was not the one.
Dinner one time with friends in London, and I’d invited my mum and sister, all the way from Copenhagen to celebrate. I smiled, mildly merry as i kissed friends goodbye. Next morning, I realised I’d found it – the feeling that is, not the painting – the love and warmth of friendship.
I was back at Whitechapel Gallery recently – and it took me to another place…
Me, aged nine, tied to a lamp post in the school playground – all alone, watching leaves blow around the playground whilst all the other kids were inside studying mathematics or english or maybe science.
I was tied to the lamp post because that’s what the dinner ladies did on your birthday. It sounds weird but i was glad they forgot me there. I got to see the playground with noone in it, just me and autumn leaves swirling, at the whim of the wind.
I went back to my junior school last year and stood pretty much where i was tied up – although the lamppost had gone, looking out into the playground.
For the last three years I’ve been trying to get back to that person, minus the lamp post of course, curious about the world, not caring if it was science or art or maths or anything else language might throw at me.
Understanding the ‘feeling that happened‘ was my starting point as a wanna be neuroscientist twenty years ago, and that that is the starting point as a storyteller now.
To believe that these things are the same thing is where i have landed.
Post note: I just looked back at the Love Painting that i saw, and it does have red in it…. (picture added above)…