Tag Archives: Autobiography

Drawing on the Past by Ray Bentley (FreeSpace #3)

3 Dec

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Ray - 1 of 3

Drawing on the Past

Ray’s talked about his recollections of Mark and Billy over the last three weeks, and now he wants to tell you about his own experiences from the same time.

When Ray moved to London in 1956 he could hardly believe his luck. He was 17, he’d secured a place at St Martin’s School of Art to study sculpture when the college was on the rise, and he felt liked he’d arrived from the provinces just in time to see things finally wake up after the war.

Even though he and his best mate had only applied for a laugh, Ray took to London life immediately, and flourished both socially and creatively. He made a lot of friends within and without the school, and he quickly found himself singled out because of his instinctive ability. Just a year after arriving his work was exhibited alongside one of the pre-eminent sculptors of the time, and he was feted by his lithography tutor for his exceptional talent. Word soon spread, and some very important teacher-artists used to come to the studio to see his work.

Elsewhere, he was enthralled by the American painters who were being exhibited in Europe for the first time, and he embraced the ground-breaking shifts that were taking under his sculpture tutor.

Moreover, at a time when British artists such as Francis Bacon, John Craxton and Keith Vaughan were exploring their emotions and desires in frank and challenging ways, and when many of his fellow students were becoming increasingly flamboyant, Ray believed he was at a place where he could live openly and honestly.

He couldn’t have been more mistaken. At the end of his third year an increasingly overconfident Ray told one sculpture teacher he was gay, an admission he naively considered innocuous given the apparent liberalism elsewhere in the school. Instead of keeping his counsel, however, the teacher immediately passed this confidence to his head of department, who in turn shared it with the principal. As Ray’s guardian he was justifiably fearful of the legal ramifications of this confession, but his handling, though initially well-intentioned, was to have a lasting effect on Ray.

Ray immediately questioned their response, but was told that “because it came from your own lips, we have to take action”. The principal sent Ray to see the most eminent psychiatrist in London in the hope that he would take – or at least feign – a cure, instructing him that when asked, he was to say that he initiated the consultation himself.

Ray - 2 of 3

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He did nothing of the kind, and he made it quite clear to both the doctor and the dozen-or-so medical students sitting in on the appointment that this pantomime was not his decision, that he was perfectly happy as he was, and that he wouldn’t be returning. While this decision may appear either brave or foolhardy, Ray was also driven by fear. In the absence of any sympathetic guidance and amid a mess of half-truths and rumours, he assumed that he would be admitted for electric shock treatment, aversion therapy or chemical castration. Worst of all, he was scared that he’d be forced to leave his partner, who you read about last week; this, more than anything else, was out of the question.

When he returned to the school “all hell broke loose”. He was greeted with a tirade from a frustrated principal who made it clear that Ray had no future there, and his stand led to the collapse of his relationship with the more pragmatic sculpture department. The invective he received from one staff member in particular was so persistently debilitating that his some of his fellow students complained about his behaviour.

Furthermore, Ray’s house-mate was summoned to the principal and grilled on every aspect of his domestic life in an attempt to uncover any indiscretion which would have been grist to his mill, given that Ray – though outspoken and intransigent – had been seen to have done nothing up until then that was either illegal or in contravention of college rules. The already-vulnerable Alan then attempted to take his own life. He left college shortly afterwards, and never painted again.

Despite – or even because – of this uncertainty, however, Ray’s printmaking continued to mature at a considerable rate, and his increasingly sympathetic but clearly hamstrung lithography tutor made it known that he had developed talents well beyond his years.

This was all academic, however, because Ray was failed, as he knew he would be. Many of his peers were nonplussed by this decision and they recommended that he appeal or resit, but he knew that either was untenable while the status quo remained. He did approach a solicitor, however, but after sharing his story and his tears he was curtly presented with a bill for five pounds and told that he should “accept his punishment”.

After completing a series of corporate commissions he’d secured in his final year Ray retired as a professional artist and tried to forget everything. He never told anyone else what happened, including his partner, with whom he remained until his death 29 years later. His surviving family will only find out when they read this. He avoided living one lie, perhaps, only to live out another.

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Ray - 3 of 3

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The good news, for Ray at least, is that this isn’t the end of the story, because he returned to art full-time over fifty years later at the age of 72. He’s very quickly had an unexpected, though modest success as a painter, and his work has been exhibited throughout the UK. He’s been away for too long to even know what the vanguard looks like any more, but his unashamedly conservative yet intuitive works have won a small, but enthusiastic set of admirers.

Does he regret all of this? For himself, no; if anything, he thinks it was the making of him professionally, because at the time he believed that nothing worse could happen. He’s sure that in the decade that followed this lent him a toughness that enriched the next stage of his life, even if he took a different turn to the colleagues who went on to make St Martin’s the centre of the art world for a while. He didn’t even think then about what he might have been missing.

It’s fair to say, therefore, that Ray isn’t speaking out now because he feels aggrieved, or because he wishes to point the fingers at the usually-capable professionals who were themselves the victims of history. He can even see why some people would think he didn’t do a great deal to help himself. He’s speaking out because he was one of the lucky ones, and because he wants to put it behind him. He found a way to survive and exploit his creative energies elsewhere, but some people lost more than just their careers and their dreams as a result of the peculiarities of the age; they lost their lives as well, and this article is for them.

POSTSCRIPT:

At the beginning of this year Ray returned to St Martin’s (now Central Saint Martins) to share this story with them. He wanted to find out if there was any record of what happened, and whether this happened to anyone else. If it did, he wants their testimony to be shared with today’s students so that they could see how recently discrimination of this kind was still commonplace, even at an institution many assumed would have been a beacon of tolerance; if this was systemic, this would be an important part of their history.

He returned with the testimonies of those surviving house-mates who were interrogated and a wealth of documentary evidence confirming his presence at the school, but sadly there is no trace of him ever having been there at all. He is still in discussion with Central Saint Martins.

 

Biography:

Ray Bentley is an award-winning painter from Stoke-on-Trent whose still lifes and figurative paintings have been exhibited throughout the UK. He now lives and works near Redcar with his partner and dog, where he spends his days eating biscuits, napping, not doing the housework, tweeting about his favourite things, reading thrillers and – occasionally – painting. You can learn more about him at www.raymondbentley.com or follow him via  https://twitter.com/bentleyteesside

 

If you missed Ray’s first FreeSpace (Drawing Mark from Memory) you can find it here.

And Ray’s second FreeSpace (Trumpets: Drawing Billy From Memory) can be found here.

 

nb. Ray, happily, is also one of our Viking artists taking part in ArtiPeeps’ 2014/2015 largescale collaboration The Nine Realms

 

FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months. Do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On page or via comments if you’d like to take up this opportunity.

Trumpets: Drawing Billy from Memory by Ray Bentley (FreeSpace #2)

19 Nov

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Falling Asleep Reading

Falling Asleep Reading

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Trumpets: Drawing Billy from Memory

 

Last year Nicky allowed me to share the story of the first, and, indeed, the last surviving of my London friends. Over the next two weeks I’m going to be writing more about that time, but I’m going to start by retelling the story his life, and about how I tried to draw him from memory nearly half a century after my first sketch of Mark.

 

I owe everything in my adult life to the suffering of Billy. If he hadn’t been severely beaten as a child, and if he hadn’t been bullied by religious zealots, things could have been much less interesting for both of us.

Billy made the first of many attempts to escape from his parents at just seven, when he was found at the local railway station trying to buy a ticket to London. He didn’t succeed then, but that taste of release was enough to make him clock-watch for the next eight years until he finally broke free.

He was raised in a Salvation Army family, and he hated everything about it. There was no dancing, no theatre, no pictures, no radio, no music worth listening to and definitely no drinking, just trumpet lessons and prayer meetings and endless, perfunctory traipsings in stupid, ill-fitting uniforms. There was nothing to do in fact, but save, plan and daydream for his big getaway, which turned everything, including school, into an unnecessary distraction. Although he was never a naughty child his indifference was generally taken as insubordination, and his frequent chastisements eventually culminated in a beating with a board ruler that was so severe that it fractured his wrist bones; he was just thirteen.

He lived with the pain for a few days afterwards, and it was only once he fainted on the way home from school that a botched attempt was made to reset the bones. This marked the beginning of a series of costly to-ings and fro-ings to hospital which eventually led to a sepsis in his arm. His doctor recommended amputation, but Billy insisted otherwise, and he found another physician that was able to save the arm – at a cost.

The resultant damage made it near impossible for him to comfortably hold his Salvation Army band trumpet while it was still healing, which seemed to make little difference to his insistent parents. Just shy of his fifteenth birthday and the end of his tenure at school, he decided he’d had enough. He gathered what he’d been able to save and made the journey from Teesside to Tilbury docks, where he attempted to board passage on a merchant vessel.

 

Bathtime Learning

Bathtime Learning

 

It was fortunate for Billy that the first man he met knew where his best interests lay. He fed him and persuaded him to return home, and to come back when he didn’t have to lie about his age. He gave him all the money he had, which was just enough to get him as far as Doncaster, leaving him shy of home by eighty miles. It took him three days of walking and hitching on mostly empty roads to reach his sister’s house in Thirsk, where they had to cut him out of his boots.

This adventure, the first of many, and probably the best, gave him the quiet invincibility he would need to make the rest of his life just as exciting. To be fair to his parents, it did shock them into cutting him enough slack to stopping him running again, and he held on until he was finally rescued by the outbreak of war.

He went to enlist with his local battalion, The Green Howards, but quickly changed his mind when he was told that it was, at that time, standard policy to remove the teeth of new recruits. He decided to cross The Pennines and join The East Lancashire Regiment instead, which allowed him to keep more than his teeth; all but eight of his fellow recruits from the Green Howards were killed shortly after they went into active service.

The battalion recognised his physical limitations and gave him an administrative role, and his life blossomed as he was sent first to South Africa and then Egypt. He was captivated by the colour, the levity and the sensuality of these countries, and he developed a taste for life at its fullest: food, culture, travel, diversity and of course, sex, all experienced anew at a time when his life could be taken at any moment. Having lost his virginity – as most of his comrades did – in the brothels of their nearest postings, Billy then had his first gay relationship with a British Officer in Cairo, a self-discovery which would only enrich his life further, and which lent him an attitude to sexuality and fidelity which was completely unfettered by the domestic mores of the time.

After what was for him a very enjoyable war he returned to London, where he secured a job as a warehouseman at Derry & Toms, a department store in Kensington. It was while working his way through the ranks that he met Leslie, who became his first long term partner. Leslie worked for Odham’s Press, a publishing house in London, and he did as much to broaden Billy’s perspectives as the conflicts of his formative years.

They took a flat together at the wrong end of Chelsea at a time when furniture was “on coupon”, so they had little choice but to appoint their flat with cheap antiquities. Their home became something of a meeting point for West London’s smart, gay demi-monde, and Billy was given a masterclass in polite bitchery and sharp-tonguedness that was as gruelling as anything his military training had thrown at him.

They separated amicably in 1955, when Leslie went to Venezuela with his new partner, leaving Billy to hold fort both in Chelsea and at Odhams, where he inherited Leslie’s professional duties. It was a year later that I first came into his life after we were match-made by Mark, who I told you about last week. I was still seventeen, and I’d been in London just a few weeks. Billy was thirty eight, and together we started a personal and business adventure that would last for another 30 years.

Despite the age difference we flourished because we were in the early stages of the same journey. Billy was learning more about fine art at the same time that I was doing my diploma at St Martin’s, and it was this shared appetite, combined with our own separate adversities which led us to open a shop together four years later. I’ll tell you more about my own journey next time.

He left from Odhams shortly after we’d met to join a new company that organised international trade fairs for publishers, but the plug was pulled in 1960 when it was discovered that the fairs were being used as cover for British spies who were operating in Eastern Europe. With the money he’d saved and the income I contributed, we opened a shop together on Pimlico Road selling early English watercolours, prints and old master drawings.

When we started there was nothing but a baker, a dry cleaner, a haberdashers, a few empty shops and a bomb site on our part of the street, and the time we spent building our customer base and travelling England’s B-roads in our rickety Morris in search of stock was probably the happiest time of our lives.

Despite his burgeoning tastes and passions Billy lived free of any middle class affection, and it was very much the case that his brusqueness, his fearlessness, his knowledge, and his complete lack of concern for the fripperies of bourgeois life endeared him to our upper class customers.

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea

 

In less than six years – through no effort on our part – our patch of London had become the heart of a revitalised city that was, for a short while, the centre of the world, but it made us too busy to notice the finer details of this mini-renaissance, much to our regret.

We finally moved from London to Bedfordshire in the late 1960’s, but our decision to join the commuting classes and inveigle ourselves in the pettinesses of suburbia never sat well with Billy, whose main contribution to the cultural life of our new home was the ease with which he could sleep his way through the erring husbands and wives of the town.

 The business was so successful that it effectively ran itself, but Billy lost his appetite for it as the sixties came to a close. We kept going – even though I now feel we should have got out earlier – until he fell ill in 1984. The fire-haired, pale-skinned Billy had been burned by the sun during his military training in Egypt, which returned as the melanoma that took his life in 1986. As his end grew closer, he never lost his passion for life, he never became embittered, and he never allowed himself to fall into the trap of wanting more; the deaths of young colleagues had become commonplace when he was a soldier, and he knew he’d already had more than his fair share. Like the first Peter Pan before him, he considered death to be the next great adventure.

I arranged all of the civil details for Billy’s funeral, but at their insistence I allowed the service to be arranged by his sisters. They passed it to a Salvation Army Officer who had never met him, and who delivered a memorial which made no mention of his military service, nor any of his life after he left home. My own bouquet was removed from his coffin, and I was duly handed the bill for everything; he would have been disgusted that the religious jobsworths who had driven him from his home had returned to bring him back for good.

He left a legacy which is still celebrated by those of us who knew him. He was tough, disdainful of weakness, contemptous of self-pity, opportune, impulsive, and frequently errant, but he was also extraordinarily kind, thoroughly honest and in all other respects tireless reliable in all of his dealings.

The drawings included, I did of him at various times of his life. I tried to paint him afresh for this, as I had done with Mark, but unfortunately I no longer hold a strong enough picture of his face in my head for me to be able to do so. The watercolour, which I painted on holiday in Greece, gives a sense of how he relished every opportunity to immerse himself in the heat and colour of the world without any fear; this is how life should be.

 

Biography:

Ray Bentley is an award-winning painter from Stoke-on-Trent whose still lifes and figurative paintings have been exhibited throughout the UK. He now lives and works near Redcar with his partner and dog, where he spends his days eating biscuits, napping, not doing the housework, tweeting about his favourite things, reading thrillers and – occasionally – painting. You can learn more about him at www.raymondbentley.com or follow him via  https://twitter.com/bentleyteesside

 Watch out for the second instalment of Ray’s FreeSpace on Wednesday 3rd December

 If you missed Ray’s first FreeSpace (Drawing Mark from Memory) you can find it here.

 

 

FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months. Do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On page or via comments if you’d like to take up this opportunity.

The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark from Memory by Ray Bentley (FreeSpace #1)

12 Nov

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Mark 1 by Ray Bentley

Mark 1 by Ray Bentley

The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark from Memory

 

Last year Nicky allowed me to share the story of the first, and, indeed, the last surviving of my London friends. Over the next three weeks I’m going to be writing more about that time, but I’m going to start by retelling the story his life, and about how I tried to draw him from memory nearly half a century after my first sketch of Mark.

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When I moved to London from Stoke-on-Trent, Mark was one of the first people I met, and within minutes he delivered the first – and perhaps the most useful – of the many stark bon mots he would offer me over the years:

“Raymond, darling” he said, with a swish of his dinner-plate hands, “if you are ill, simply disappear and don’t come back until you’re sparkling again, aaand if you ever have any problems, don’t even think for a moment of sharing them with anyone, because they won’t want to know, dear, and neither will I frankly: OK?”

I was seventeen, fresh from the provinces and thirsty for everything London had on show. Mark, on the other hand, was already past the pinnacle of his remarkable career, and he’d begun the slow elegant decline that was as compelling as anything I’d missed; He was just twenty five.

His advice was horribly well-founded. When he first came to London he had been abused, ignored, disregarded, criminalised, beaten, stepped over and tossed from any number of establishments simply for living out his own peculiar truth, meaning that when he was still a boy he’d reached a plateau of defiance, acceptance and resilience so liberating that the only thing he ever feared from then on was the loss of his precious hair. He presented himself with an almost pathological breeziness, and he refused to tolerate even a hint of self-pity from me or anyone else.

What I liked about Mark immediately was the way that this ineffable mask concealed not only his weaknesses, but his most remarkable achievements; he made every part of his life look effortless. I only found out from a friend years later, for example, that while peers, dignitaries and heads of state were forced to walk from the cordons to Westminster Abbey on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, Mark had been one of a small team of stylists that were limousined from palace to palace to spray the hair and fix the coronets of the world’s aristocracy. Not-yet twenty-one, and under the soubriquet of Mr M (or “Lil” to his closest customers), he’d become the best-placed commoner at the last hurrah of the greatest empire without even breaking into a sweat.

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Mark 2 by Ray Bentley

Mark 2 by Ray Bentley

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As far as I know he’d left his native Cardiff as a teenage hairdresser to move to Manchester after catching the eye of Helena Rubenstein, but within weeks he was sent down to her London Salon; six months after that, he was in Paris.

So: in the absence of any palpable hunger or guile, what was it that led a working class boy from South Wales to these heights so quickly? I think it was the combination of his impeccable, unforced manners, his beguiling confidence and his looks that taxied him into polite society, blessed as he was with the pompadour, the quixotic flounce, the traffic-stopping nose, and the towering, ambiguous physique that would, by turns, disarm, mesmerise and reassure everyone who met him.

Predictably, however, this insouciance became as much a hindrance as it was a help. Had he been more career-minded I feel sure, for example, that he would have found it in himself not to throw a chair at one of his royal clients following her late arrival to an appointment. His inevitable dismissal curtailed his trajectory, but after retreating to Cardiff to let the dust settle he was quickly lured to London afresh by an up-and-coming salon which – with his efforts – quickly overshadowed even Rubenstein’s.

So: less than two years after his expulsion he was preening the elite again, just as his sins were slipping from polite memory. As soon as he was back in Town he was bored, though, and he wanted something new.

Wigs had slipped out of fashion in the 1920’s, but with the advent of new technology, greater prosperity, and some fledgling interest on the continent, Mark decided that he would bring the perruque back to London, and he successfully re-introduced the capital to a passion for hairpieces that would last well into the sixties; Dusty, he claimed, never went anywhere else.

This was another of his unique qualities: his adaptability was such that he could learn his way into a position of unparalleled expertise on whatever appealed to him at any given time: wigs, clocks, antiques, quadrophonic sound systems, chimpanzees, Borzoi breeding, handsome Guardsmen, and, more than anything else, Lord Byron, whose style and swagger he comprehensively appropriated. Such was his authority that he was called upon by Peter Hall – director of the West End production of “Camino Real” – to ensure that the hair of the young Robert Hardy was exactly the right shade of Byronic auburn.

His passions weren’t always so durable, however. He returned his chimp to Harrods just hours after he bought it when it became clear that the constant screeching and poo-throwing would play havoc with his hosting prowess.

He was also blessed with a selective practicality which, to all but Mark, appeared utterly extraordinary: for example, he thought it perfectly natural that everyone should have at least one overgrown fingernail for those times when there wasn’t a screwdriver to hand. He also thought it was the obvious career move, when, aged just twenty, he received a series of injections from a doctor boyfriend which successfully protected him from hereditary baldness, even if it meant that he’d be forced to live with a pair of perfectly formed but enormous boobs for the next thirty years.

I can’t say exactly what it was that made him finally leave hairdressing for good, but he made a well-timed exit just before the kid-next-door renaissance of the swinging sixties turned Mark’s brand of exoticism into a quaint impediment..

His first attempt at reinvention shrewdly mirrored the entrepreneurial hipness of that age, and he utilised his contacts within the music industry to try and repackage himself as The Mystery Singer. His plan was to release a beat version of “Come Into The Garden, Maude”, which would be sang from behind a screen upon which a back light would silhouette Mark’s unmistakable profile and trademark cigarette holder. Although he couldn’t sing a note he considered this wholly unimportant, as he was well aware that they could “do marvellous things in the studio” to rectify this. Unsurprisingly this project never came to fruition in the way he’d hoped, although the concept remains strangely compelling.

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Mark 3 by Ray Bentley

Mark 3 by Ray Bentley

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It’s from about here onwards that I start to lose my grip on the chronology of Mark’s life a bit, because when he disappeared (as her warned me he would) he limited contact to sporadic and increasingly glib telephone calls if things were going either extremely well or extremely poorly. Given that I hardly ever saw him, this will give you some idea of what lay ahead.

His father – who’d diligently tithed Mark’s earnings for over a decade to ensure he didn’t fritter everything away – felt compelled to move down from Cardiff in the sixties, and together they relied on Mark’s knowledge of clocks and his father’s engineering prowess to make a comfortable living – until he chased the old man back to Wales, that is.

It was then that he also embarked his longest, but most unsuccessful career, as an inventor. His confidence remained as formidable ever, but for the first time the world resisted Mark in ways he couldn’t negotiate. The financial pressure of retaining patents on his ideas, coupled with his unerring taste for the good life meant that his capital was eaten away, and he could do nothing as his better innovations were picked off one by one as the rights expired.

To an inventor, determination is as combustible as oxygen, and the drive that allows you to knock unflinchingly on a multitude of doors eventually blinds you to the limitations of the products you believe in – and invest in – the most.

In Mark’s case he came unstuck because of his unwavering belief that disposable, self-adhesive glove-pads for caterers and car mechanics were the future, and he spend everything on research and development in a vain attempt to make a satisfactory hand glue.

A substantial windfall and the generous return from the sub-letting of a sitting tenancy in the West End kept things ticking over financially for a decade or so, during which time he continued to make some very important friends despite a lack of any tangible success. Consequently, he was invited onto “Clive Anderson Talks Back” in the mid-80s to talk about his inventions, and he proved so popular that he was hurried back for a repeat performance on a later episode.

This flurry of interest in both his ebullient charm and his unlikely devices coincided with the removal of his breasts, which had become so large by then that he had to bind them to himself before leaving the house. Instead of freeing him to enjoy this eminence, however, it precipitated a deterioration which made it almost impossible for him to fully enjoy the rest of his life. He clung on to his demeanour as best as he could and remained as dashing, imposing and infectious as ever, even if he could no longer walk without a stick.

The last time I saw him was about twelve years ago. Even though the money was all but gone he was living in a grace and favour house in Herefordshire that was nothing less than palatial, and which was staffed with a housekeeper to tend the needs of Mark, his equally unreliable partner, his ever-decreasing circle of friends, and his two lanky Borzois. He talked about how he’d recently appeared on Esther Rantzen’s new daytime show, but was somewhat discomfited by the way in which he and his fellow inventors were presented as eccentrics worthy of nothing but ridicule.

For the next two years I spoke to Mark only sporadically. His telephone calls again became short, charming and infuriating, and, as before, were never long enough to betray the new realities of his life.

When I went to his sparsely attended funeral I found out that both the house and the housekeeper had been gone for some time, and that he, his partner and his super-sized dogs had been forced by penury into a one-bedroomed council flat. A handful of people – all of whom were local – paid their respects at his service, but there was only me there that knew the truths about Mark that were hidden even from his partner.

The fifty year sunset on his own private empire was finally over, and with it, another un-Google-able life had been lost to history. For all I’ve gone on, you still don’t even know the half of what he got up to.

Given the colour and unthinking vitality of Mark’s life I could only see tragedy in his quiet end at first, but As I’ve got older myself I now only see the triumph, given that almost every life, eventful or otherwise, ends with the same unseemly bathos.

Mark lived “to the max”, and I feel sure now that were he presented with the circumstances of his late penury, death and quiet exit exit fifty years earlier, he would gladly have taken it in return for the splendid chaos he made for himself.

I’ve attached the three drawings I completed for this tribute: the first was a pencil sketch I did as a refresher; the second was a profile based on that and further recollections, and the third was a much more impressionistic rendering I did after this article had been written; none of them, it has to be said, do him justice, particularly when compared to the first sketch I did of him when I was at art school.

That one is lost, sadly. If, on your travels, however, you chance upon a pen/ink sketch of a tall, reclining naked man with a foot-long cigarette holder, a cottage loaf pompadour, gigantic breasts and an equally gigantic member, then you’ll have completed the set, and you’ll have a much better visual analogue for what it was that made Mark so delightfully shocking.

 

Biography:

Ray Bentley is an award-winning painter from Stoke-on-Trent whose still lifes and figurative paintings have been exhibited throughout the UK. He now lives and works near Redcar with his partner and dog, where he spends his days eating biscuits, napping, not doing the housework, tweeting about his favourite things, reading thrillers and – occasionally – painting. You can learn more about him at www.raymondbentley.com or follow him via  https://twitter.com/bentleyteesside

 

 Watch out for the second instalment of Ray’s FreeSpace on Wednesday 19th November.

 

 

 

FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months. Do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On page or via comments if you’d like to take up this opportunity.

‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 3, FreeSpace #3)

17 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s last FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she has been exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she has offered up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. This week it’s Fragment 3 and the concluding part of her story. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s last exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 3

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She needed distraction from her thoughts. She chose to go to the City of Ely and visit Ely Cathedral. Along the winding road to this ancient place, suddenly, this magical building rises out of the flat landscape on the right-hand side and after a while the road bends and then strangely the cathedral appears to be on the other side of the road!!! There she is, Ely Cathedral, story of survival, beautiful and wise. She enters with a serious heart, it is Remembrance Day. She walks to the Octagon, turns left into the heart of the place reaching the ‘Showcases of Remembrance’, where on this day the letter ‘M’ mourns the lives of soldiers who lost their lives in WW2.

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She lights a candle and remembers them.

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living for the evidence of remembrance 1995
mourning: the dead
madness of persecution
lunacy of war
the irreparable destruction of children in war
disrespect for the preciousness of human
life of all kind
forgive or not forgive
but tell your story of that dark time
for the sake of time to come.

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 You can find Fragment 1 here and Fragment 2 here

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 2, FreeSpace #2)

11 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s second  FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she is going to be exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she will be offering up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. This week it’s Fragment 2. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 2

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Now she returned to Leipzig after an absence of 34 years. She is on her way to visit a friend to whom she only had written or sent parcels at Christmas-time, because that was all she could do. The car turned a corner, here she was: Karl-Liebknecht-Srasse, 91, Leipzig, Germany, we are one country again. One country. East-Germany had seized to exist, but the houses and the ruins told a different story. Hitler’s legacy was still visible here and she recalled the horrors of war, the Holocaust, the destruction of men, women and children of all races, beliefs and talents, whose lives she mourned.

This was not a country of which she could be proud.

She greeted her friend with a full heart. She talked, but she was burning to see the centre of the city again. She wanted to discover her childhood at will. She wanted to meet the long-buried other. She walked along the streets, where she knew she had experienced this architecture before, saw the trams rattling along, ‘kling’, ‘kling’. She does not take a tram, she savours the walk, she fathoms the atmosphere, slowly reaching the centre of her birthplace. She stands bemused on the Karl-Marx-Platz, the clock is on the hour, sombre bells suddenly sound, hit her ear: the bell-ringers strike the hour. Back, back, backwards I go. I stood here before! I have heard these bells long ago. Yes, when I was little, just seven years old, 1944. I remember this song, this melody of bells. I glide backwards into my past. It was war then, when peoples purple blood burst, bells weep, where she learned the meaning of ‘Angst’.

And there she was once again amidst a familiar sound-scape and heavy inheritance, facing her fears still living and breathing in the Now, still vivid, visceral…

…and all the memories and circumstance melted through once again…

Cellars of Fear

This 4. December 1944, NIGHT, sounds of sirens, get the children, house shaking, lights fade, people running into cellars, trying to save their lives.

I choke because of smoke in the cellar, the cellar an awesome place, huge pipes run through it, modern technology – a central heating system, it could burst.

It is utter darkness, will I get out of this cauldron of misery seven years old, having lost a just war against Hitler when I was born in 1937. Evil starting under the guise of progress in 1939.

I am still speechless now in 1995, thinking of cruelty, the holocaust, suffering that need not be.

My memories of war are horrific: stifling smoke in the cellar, my granny-aged, my baby-sister in pram not conceiving this lunacy or innocence conceiving lunacy, my mother trying to rescue some possessions from our home above burning. An old man – not fit for fighting in the war came to our cellar. He took me into his arms, carried me covered with a wet sack through the burning streets of Leipzig. All streets around us burning houses, full of lives trying to survive. Flying burning beams fell beside our distracted heads seeking safety in a street blocks away which did not burn yet. No thought of my mother, sister, grandmother, just being saved for some saner place in this burning inferno. My mother, baby-sister, grandmother were saved the same way.

All I can remember are cellars of fear, but escaping into what? What kind of life could there be after that.

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Yes, what life? This burning inferno was deeply buried into her subconscious. But now she must live forwards. A sun-beam struck her, today there was a blue, kind sky above her, the dominant sky of the Fens of East-Anglia, where she now lived.

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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Karin will be returning with Fragment 3 of ‘Fragments of Inheritance’ on Tuesday 17th December.

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* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

‘Fragments of Inheritance’ by Karin Heyer (Fragment 1, FreeSpace #1)

4 Dec

Fragments

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‘Whatever else it is autobiography is not non-fiction’

(Timothy Dow Adams, Modern Fiction Studies, 40)

Welcome to Karin’s first FreeSpace on ArtiPeeps  in which she is going to be exploring the relationship between autobiography and fiction through her own autobiographical story ‘Fragments of Inheritance’. Within her three slots on ArtiPeeps she will be offering up, in sequence, a part of her story along with an audio reflection of her response to the particular fragment that we have featured. Karin lived through a very particular part of European history (WWII) and her work engages with very significant subject matter that is universally meaningful and individually personal. We hope you enjoy Karin’s exploration.

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Fragments of Inheritance

Fragment 1

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‘standing in the shadow of Hitler

born 1937

condemned 1939, just two years old

attempting redemption 1983

living for the evidence of remembrance 1995′

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She was born with a heavy inheritance. She felt her moon-baked icy heart wanting to melt the shock of recognition of deeds done between 1939 – 1945. That scar rested upon her. This bloody war weighed on her creating a violent hatred of war within her heart. This in turn nurtured a deep love of peace, and fueled her need to work for reconciliation between the two nations she most cherished, England and Germany.

Now, she lives in England.

It was a splendid, warm early spring morning when she looked around her sun-lit room, a milky way of memories rushing through her: her books standing upright as a witness of times gone by, like friends in certain hours of need; a still candle of remembrance burning; a piece of rock , insignificant to look at, but it is a tiny part of ‘The Berlin Wall’ coming down in 1989, a precious symbol of an irrepressible need for freedom. This forceful voice of resistance still echoed in her mind. ‘ Totalitarianism can only be defeated if many people unite and fight against it.’ The word-call still had meaning.

Much courage rushed through Europe and Germany on that day she never thought she would ever see. The 9th November 1989. Freedom had triumphed, ‘The Wall’ had fallen. The Berlin-Wall was a sight of joy. She witnessed the coming together of people who had been visibly forced apart for 28 years. These amazing days had an almost dream-like quality.

She suddenly believes in miracles! Leipzig, too, where she was born, had become an active instrument in the struggle for freedom. The ‘Monday Demonstrations’, which had began in September continue. The door of the ‘Nikolai Church’ long open to the people of Leipzig before the heated autumn days of 1989 had become the symbol for peaceful gathering of men and women. This House of God was: open for all After many years of oppression it was possible to say: we want free elections; we are the instruments of peace; we are standing here; down with the Stasi; we are the people; the ‘Wall’ must go. It was in Leipzig where history was turned up-side down. And it all happened peacefully. ‘I write and think as a woman against war, I write and think as a woman for peace’. The word-call still had meaning.

Yes, she remembered it all so well, these heady days. She was now able to return to the place where she was born without visas or other difficulties.

**

She is now sitting in a car moving forwards, being driven from a small town, Pottenstein in West-Germany, to Leipzig in the former East-Germany. The landscape near the industrial town Karl-Marx-Stadt, now Chemnitz again was grey, the fields with their products are covered by a faint, shadowy substance, which came from factories, where no concerns for the environment reigned. The smell of the ‘Trabi’, with its two-stroke engine hung in the air, but no Stasidogs were barking. She could not believe that this was real, but it was! There grew an awareness of time having stood still, arrested under a regime that thousands of people had fled from in the hope of finding a better life, like she had done. As a young girl she had left Leipzig illegally from East-Germany to West-Berlin, and later, moved on for England, off to Cambridge.

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Biography

I was born on the 4th of November 1937, just one day before Gun-powder Day! So, I celebrated my entrance with a BANG, yet far away from England then, in fact, in Leipzig, Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Leipzig in Saxony became part of East-Germany, which I left, illegally, in 1953. My family and I settled in West-Berlin, where I went to High-School, when finished there I left Berlin for Cambridge, England. I was a student of English for a while, took a BA Honours Degree in European Thought and Literature and English History at Anglia Polytechnic University, where I also took a MA in Women’s Studies with a Dissertation on German History. I became a teacher of the German Language,Literature and History during my working life. I have now retired from teaching and find myself writing, reading and enjoying life to the full.

As yet Karin does not have a website, but you can make contact with Karin via ArtiPeeps through the comment box on this post or contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page.

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Karin will be returning with Fragment 2 of ‘Fragments of Inheritance on Thursday 12th December.

* FreeSpace offers any creative or group from any discipline  3 post slots on ArtiPeeps which can be taken in sequence or in a cluster for showcasing, self-expression or projects (encouraged). If you are interested in taking up a FreeSpace slot in our next run of work please do get in contact via the comment box or contact form on the What’s On Page  You’d be welcomed.

Lost and Found

29 Oct

This is a story of words.

I began as a word. I grew into a sentence, that formed into a paragraph, that turned into a story, that turned into a  life

You know how I said last week that I was putting a story about creativity aside  for the sake of Edwina’s tale. Well now’s the time for me to tell  the other story, the story I could have told you last week and chose not to. But the time feels right now. My blinds are drawn, my computer a-glowing and my fingers are itching. It’s a tale about the power of words  found, lost, destroyed and found again.

1967-1970

Once upon a time there was a little girl. She lived in a slightly scruffy terraced house in a University town- what could only be described as middle class suberbia. She had a mother and a father (luckily) and a cat. She was shy, drippingly shy. At school  in the lunch hour she would sit each day on a red-cracked bench in the playground and imagine all sorts of amazing things in her head. She would use her imagination like a shield.  Behind the shield she would shape images into words and let them grow into stories.

She used her imagination to create spider-web connections, connections she did not have with other people of her age. She felt distanced, removed, not normal. You see when she was born, her scream did not come when it should. Just not quickly enough. The oxygen molecules did not go to her brain fast enough, and there was brain damage- the-cerebral-palsy-physical- brain- damage kind-  a wonky gait, a spasming hand, a limp left side. But it wasn’t ‘that’ bad she could pass for ‘normal’. But she never did feel normal: never felt normal inside.  She felt-o-so- different;  and the words,  sentences and paragraphs she formed helped her address her difference.

The words were like a thick syrup or tincture to her;  they helped her cope with the sadness that had started to fill her up inside.  The sadness of who she thought she was. A sadness that set up residence and of which she became afraid. She became afraid of the world and the darkness began to seep into her very core and slip-showed in her little brown eyes.

As she grew the words became more and more important to her. They would sit in her mind for hours and want to burst forth. They needed an outlet and as she got older she found she could put them down on paper. The words could take a form and exist outside of her mind. This was quite often the only time she felt at peace.

1980:

She continued to write – through her  parent’s divorce, through broken friendships and through an increasing darkness that had started to manifest itself within her. (O the mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed*) Her words started to get darker and nastier. Teenage-hood beckoned and the gloom nestled deep within. She began to offer her words up to the gloom. A supplication. Her words, rather than taking her away, began to validate all that she thought was bad within her and all that was different.  She wrote about glass and shards and sunsets. The words became dead to her even though she was letting them live on the page. The girl, then the young woman, was getting depressed.

Drip. Drap. Drop. 

The big black-drop sheet came down. And the words and the darkness began to save her: BUT THEY WERE THE WRONG WORDS. 

Words used in the wrong way. If you take my meaning.

The words continued to form but as quickly as she put them on to paper they began to zip themselves up again. They settled back in her head and rested there pulsing, waiting for an outlet. Slowly they began to dry up. She lost her voice.

The hurt grew.

She told no-one about this, and she hid it all behind a huge grin and a mass of curly hair. She became the person everybody wanted her to be, and she began to vanish, just like her words.

She lost herself. O.

But then, as the late 1990’s beckoned and she made the decision to study another energy started to emerge- it was exciting, fierce, disinhibiting and unique. She began to be filled with a sparky force, something kinetic, and she found she could write again. In fact words poured forth from her like water from a out-of-control hose. They pressured out, and her sentences and paragraphs were extremely articulate, praised, and she started to succeed. This feeling she loved, and it helped her fight against the darkness. But inside she always knew, something uncomfortable was happening. But she couldn’t put her finger on it, and the burning light that she had become, grew and grew, and GREW. She became the light, and she didn’t give a damn.

Her output was extraordinary. It was easy: the plays, the magazines, the essays. For the first time she felt like a star in the cosmos. A big burning, beligerant star. Like she could. So far away from little red-cracked-sad-eyes-bench- girl. It was fantastic. But she kept on crashing. Up and Down. Down and Up. Then there were only downs.

NO more light. No more words. At all.

Eventually the darkness encased her and she retreated to her bedroom and never came out. She sat for hours and played miserable music and thought deathly thoughts. She stopped communicating and her mouth sealed up. Tombed in. Zipped right up. Then, then because she had nothing left to turn to, she started to write again. The words came back,  and she would hurtle towards her keyboard and her fingers could not move quickly enough to capture the anguish and stricture of her thoughts. The words began to run rampant.

They poured out, the words- into poetry (for poetry often can articulate the soul more than prose) and into free form;  and then she would wash herself clean, submerge herself,  because the words felt dirty, not hers but her mind’s. In the silence of the water, in the bath-depths below, everything would stop. And each day the words saved her, even though they were ill. They were her only hook on life. All she had-page upon page, letter upon letter.

2004

They said, ‘We have come to the conclusion, that you have bi-polar affective disorder, the sort that gives you increasingly worse depressions’

Bish. Bash. Bosh. Scoop these up: Lithium Carbonate. Sodium Valproate.

The words disappeared once more, and really for good she felt. Irrevocably gone. Sealed up. Diminished. Self-Eradicated. Zombified . The little lost girl again, but this time with no shield. Periodically she would try to write and no words came. So she started to paint. Still expressing but it was still not the same.

2004-2011

It took her 8 years of hard’ talk-talk work’ to see the light again. Words not paged but spoken. In-between times trying to write and create, and just getting frustrated at how she couldn’t. It came out in music and staves , but the elusive words; well, they were always just..out..there…….

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I/NOW

Here,  Now.  I can honestly say that when I started this blog-site  my words truly came back. They flowed. I truly became creative again. It started off for my group but it’s now also become about you. And the words that I’m writing now are the right words. They feel right. They’re not formed to feed an illness; they are not a shield. They come from a healthy need to express and to share. There’s no sadness there. No need to use and abuse words. It’s just there in me beacuse I am me and I like to create.

This is a poem about my writing that I wrote at the time:

Bi-polar makes you think that life is black and white. It makes you think your creativity is black and white, so if it goes as it does when you’re ill (or the words turn into something shard-like and destructive) you think they wont come back, that the creativity is gone for good.  But as I’ve moved from darkness into light and into health I’ve come to realise that creativity isn’t constant. There is an ebb and flow to it. It’s not always there, and it comes when you are inspired, and  when you act upon it and share it, like for this blog each week.

Now ‘I am a Landscape’. I don’t need to hide behind my words or fear that they will vanish, even though I worry nothing will come out each time I think what I’m going to write about for you. It’s a matter of a growing trust in myself and my words. I don’t have to fear the act of creation because I can hold strong like a mountain  or  be soft like snow. Now my creativity is in me and given. Like my orange intent above. There is no illness-indulgence attached. It’s all there I’m lost and I’m found. My words were lost and are now found. And now I have only more words and creations to gain. I am a Landscape, and long may it continue!

‘Aren’t autobiographies born in a question we ask ourselves-how did I get to this point? Don’t we look back over this path and tell ourselves a story? This is how it happened. This is who I am. ‘ Friedrick Weisel

If you have ever experienced the loss of your creativity, I’d be interested to hear your story too….

Thanks once again for your interest!  All the very best.

n.b.

ARTIPEEPS CATCH-UP:

  • Hoo-Hooo! Watch-Out, Watch-Out ARTIPEEPS HALLOWEEN HOTCHPOTCH is about this Wednesday. Our first multi-collaborator Halloween-themed post will be unleashed into the world. Look at it if you dare………
  • Our Visitor Peep, Susan O’Reilly, has another 4 poems up. She is really keen for some feedback, so (if you do have time) do take a look and respond.
  • Flash Fortnightly Starts from the 7th, your dose of short fiction every other week from Laura Besley
  • And we’re shortly starting up a FabFiction Page, so if anybody would like to share their prose and/ or poetry  do let me know via the comment box or @ArtiPeep
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