That sounds so pretentious. But I did.
This is an image – a print – we had in our hallway (I wonder whatever happened to it?), and to which I feel deeply connected. I both loved it and hated it as it hung in our hallway as I was growing up. This week I also learned that it appeared in episode #74 of my favourite television show growing up: “Bewitched”….
I remember my grandmother used to say ‘that little girl is you’. I used to think so. But I hated the fact there was no colour, and that I couldn’t see that little girl’s face. Was she happy or was she sad? How old was she? Was she little, like me, or was she 14? I so wanted to see her face. Was she scared of the dog, was that why she wasn’t kneeling to cuddle it? And was the dog a male or female? I loved that dog. I had one just like it. Her name was Goldie, a really cool stray dog who walked up to me one day after school and made friends with me, and took her home where she stayed with me for about six years.
I would stare into this painting for hours and hours and hours as a child. I would stare at the shading and the feeling of the lines that created the image, the pressure of the charcoal, the shadow under the back of her knee. I’d just get lost in it…
The painting was like our house: comforting and yet scary at the same time. We had a big, large adobe brick home which was a renovator’s nightmare, built at the turn of the century which, for all intents and purposes, was haunted. My room was upstairs, in an attic. My mother thought it was little girl heaven, and decked it out in dainty floral wallpaper, contrasted with thick purple and pink shag carpet that was so thick that if you dropped anything in it, it would doubtful ever be found again. I can’t imagine what they were thinking with the decor, but then again, they were only in their 30’s, and it was the 1970’s. All the kids we knew thought my room was way cool and way freaky. I remember thinking the same thing. Try sleeping there!
I remember it was hot as hell most days as the heat from the tin roof baked my little room, but it had these cool windows you could slide open and views all the way down to Brett’s Wharf. I could watch the Stevedores move containers from the ships in port at Hamilton at night under the bright neon lights that cut through the trees and over the roofs and the racecourse. That was comforting when I couldn’t sleep. Fun to listen to the pulleys and levers and men yelling and guiding massive containers onto the docks. No health and safety rules back then. I remember I couldn’t sleep a lot. I remember feeling like I was 300 miles away from the rest of my family every night, catapulted into the stars high, high up into the rooftop in that space – feeling like I may as well be living on Pluto. I felt totally disconnected from the rest of the world. It was freaky. I was so far away there was no going to wake my parents in the middle of the night, that’s for sure. Too much of a scary journey down the horrible haunted stairwell, through the lounge room, the dining room, past the kitchen, up a very very dark hallway and around into my parents room. No way. The Stevedores would keep me company.
I was awake often, hearing the trudge of footsteps up the wooden staircase. I knew the difference between the house creaking and popping from a hot day and the sound of a grown adult walking up the stairs to check on you. He liked to check on me around midnight most nights. You could tell from the sounds of the footsteps on the carpeted stairs that he was not a well man before he left this life. And I found out many years later from my mother that in fact the guy was a war veteran, who died of a heart attack in the back toilet. That has such a Digger’s ring to it, doesn’t it? He died on the toilet seat. LOL.
It was many, many years before I was old enough to appreciate that the painting in the hallway was was a reproduction Picasso print. The famous Spanish painter, sculptor, and stage designer, amongst other things, responsive for the most revolutionary developments in art throughout the 20th century. I just liked the marks that were made in the painting and wondered what the artist felt when he was making those marks. Why didn’t he use coloured pencils, and if he felt like I did, late at night, freaked out in his attic, did he do his drawing in the middle of the night too? I found out that he died in 1973. That was the year I started school. Grade one at the local catholic convent. I hadn’t yet turned 5.
A love of art has been immeshed in my DNA my whole life. I haven’t always felt the need to create, but to be surrounded by it, nevertheless. I’ve turned away from my own artistic desires more than once in my life, but always felt inexplicable comfort with Picasso, not for the pretensiousness of loving a Master, but because I deeply connected with the girl with her dog. I have a Picasso piece right next to me as I write as it happens. Not as profound as the Girl and her Dog, but loved nevertheless. Just like the painting, the fun and tactile image of the face gets me thinking…
And that’s what meaningful art does to you. It makes you think and it leaves you wondering about what is. It elicits emotion. And it leaves a lasting connection and a certain sense of familiarity that lingers with you and imbibes childhood memories.