My art teacher was more of an artist than a teacher. I really liked her. She was interesting. Her mind flitted to more important things than what she was doing. The creative spirit took her over. I’m in awe of people who are consumed by their creativity. She did huge mosaics out of glass. She was better at art than she was at controlling kids, that’s for sure. She was inspirational– though I let her down.
At the time we thought that she enthused about the most peculiar things.
One lesson, following a vague preliminary talk, she set us to work doing abstract paintings and went out and left us to it. That breaks the first rule of teaching – never leave any group of eleven-year-olds unattended. Their minds create mischief.
For some reason, I was in a daft mood and decided to have a bit of a laugh. I thought I’d show her what a real abstract painting was. I mixed up great pallets of powder paint into thick, gooey liquid and dolloped it on the largest piece of paper I could find to make great thick blobs and pools of colour that merged together. The others soon saw what I was doing. I soon had a few other kids mixing up paint for me and I was splashing and splattering it on this conglomeration. Before long I had built it up into a big thick splurge of paint over the entire paper. In places it was two inches thick.
All things have to come to an end, and just as we were getting completely out of control, she came back. I immediately put on my serious face and started studiously splashing more dripping paint onto the thick splurge, brushing and swirling the resulting colours and textures with a focussed deliberation and purpose that could be mistaken for expertise. She made her rounds looking at the products of the lesson. I continued to apply tiny drops of colour or tease whirls and shapes in the gooey mess, while the class looked on from afar waiting for the fireworks.
Eventually, she reached me.
I did not look up, seeming to be totally absorbed in my task, as if in some artistic reverie. Jackson Pollock would have been proud of me but I rather expected my art teacher not to be. I had certainly wasted a considerable amount of paint and produced something that a psychedelic elephant with a gastrointestinal problem might easily have come up with. I was sure she would see straight through my feigned artistic skills and recognise the piss-take for what it was.
She studied the big gooey mess of intermingling colour.
“What do you call it?” she enquired, studying the large splurge of liquid paint as if trying to discern some meaning.
“It’s called ‘Nuclear Fission’”, I replied earnestly, dabbing more paint on my masterpiece.
All around the class were grinning. I was for it now.
“It is wonderful,” she murmured. “Wonderful!”
She toured around my artwork admiring it from all sides as if it really was a masterpiece.
“Bold and imaginative,” she murmured, “I must have this displayed in the Hall.”
At the end of the lesson my splurge of art was carefully transferred to a windowsill. It took three week to dry into a great slab of swirling colour. When it was solid she had holes drilled in each corner and nailed the thing up in the entrance to the school hall. It weighed a ton and proudly hung there in the school foyer.
I must admit that I was really proud. She made me feel that I had actually created something original and worthwhile even though I had simply been having a laugh. It was almost as if I had planned it and not been messing about at all.
It stayed up there for ages until all the paint first cracked and then lumps started falling off and it had to be taken down
Following that day my art teacher treated me as if I was gifted. That felt good but it put a weight on to me that was difficult to live up to. I knew I was a fraud. It was a situation bound to end in failure.
Later that year, three of us had misbehaved and were placed in detention. She gave us the task of smashing up coloured bottles to produce shards for her mosaics. She was very fond of making these large mosaics out of shards of coloured glass. She’d collected a number of green, brown, and blue bottles and some white porcelain. We had to wrap the bottles up carefully in a big cloth and smash them with a big lump hammer. This was meant to be a punishment! After instructing us in how to do it she disappeared.
We had a great time!
We quickly smashed up all the available bottles in no time at all, and were having such fun that we searched around for other things to smash. By the time she returned we’d smashed every one of her paintbrush jars.
She was very upset.
What else could I do? For goodness sake – I was a child! All children sometimes let you down.
My father and I were probably very alike in personality.
I am amazed by how like him I have become. It is especially strange, considering the determination I had as a teenager to be so completely different to him, in every respect. I too work too hard, come home exhausted and find that the responsibilities, and lack of freedom, that come with a family weigh heavy. But hey, this is life.