Tag Archives: Expression

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

3 Dec


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


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.


Ray - 3 of 3


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.


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.



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


Falling Asleep Reading

Falling Asleep Reading


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.



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


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.


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.


Mark 2 by Ray Bentley

Mark 2 by Ray Bentley


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.


Mark 3 by Ray Bentley

Mark 3 by Ray Bentley


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.



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.

‘Keep Your Chin Up’

1 Jul



‘Express yourself in as many ways as possible without fear. There is nothing to fear,. There is nobody who is going to punish or reward you. Express your being in its truest form, in its natural flow, you will be rewarded immediately, not tomorrow but today, here and now…. ‘(Osho, The Book of Understanding)

‘Sometimes the best way to express yourself is to shut up and stay quiet’ (Nicky, aged 13)


I was 13. There was a knock on the front door of my house and I rushed down the hallway to open it. It was a Summer’s day, and the door swung open to reveal  podgy, kind-hearted Frida our next door neighbour standing brightly silhouetted in the frame of the door.  I was in my mid- teens at the time, quiet, and’ shy as a church mouse’ and going through a very, very difficult time. The last thing I wanted in the world, IN -THE -WORLD was lovely kind, caring Frida being nice to me.  I just stood there and watched her and it seemed like an age, even though it was probably merely a beat. As I watched her it was like her mouth was in slow-mo, every syllable stretched out, elongated. As I watched her gloopy mouth I didn’t say a word, I kept ‘stum’ and waited until the clammy feeling of vulnerability and shame vanished. Then she smiled at me, dusted down, cleared her throat and said:

‘How are things? Alright?’

I said nothing.

She smiled.

I just kept on staring down.

She sighed, she shuffled her feet again, breathed in, waited a bit and said:

‘Keep You’re chin up dear’, a whispy smile quickly retracting as she saw me start to tear up,  and she turned away in a swirl of do-goodery and swept off down the road.

As Frida left  I just continued to stand and stare watching her walk up the street and something inside me seemed to zip up for good. It was the final straw, and from that moment and for a good long while into the future,  I let any need of mine to express to just stay inside, to just stay within.


A Ponderance:

Sometimes it is easier to keep the words inside, to not communicate and to let the words rest within. This can be a form of expression  and a creative act. Sometimes words aren’t enough to say what you feel;  or they are not the right words; not the right words to describe the complexity of your situation,  dream or fantasy. Sometimes one can’t find the right words,  to express that particular emotion deep within or to communicate that circumstance to someone else who cares.

Up until that point in time, I had always written down what I was feeling, that’s how I kept myself safe. I expressed myself on paper because I had never really been good at communicating orally. Saying things out loud made things more real and I don’t think I liked that. It was easier to write down that I wasn’t okay than to say it , have it out there vibrationally and in front of someone who was a kind soul and who cared. And as I said previously, I’m not sure what it was about her words at that present moment but for a long while I sealed up for good and that was okay. Even today, looking back, it was the right thing to do.

In an age where we are told that self-expression and emoting are good for us; that it’s important to express like Osho says ‘everything and without fear’; to communicate with clarity and with individuality, to put it out there and to put it out there with gusto, it becomes very difficult to choose silence (and to be okay with that), or to choose not to write for a while; or to express nothing at all (what ever your ‘nothing’  is).

Now admittedly in the  scenario above I was a child (to all intents and purposes) and I couldn’t have really expressed myself with any great clarity even if I had wanted to;  I didn’t have the lexical and verbal skills I have now for starters.  But I  do remember that in that moment I did make a choice. I chose not to mould and shape what was going on in my inside and put it out there for her. I remember choosing.

How we express, what we express and to whom we express is a choice, an act of  either sometimes the intellect or the soul.  And what I mean by that is expression can be sourced from what is in our heart or what is formulated through reason and is in our heads. As children because we haven’t developed our vocabularies or our reasoning power we create and communicate from a unformed, intuitive place, a place that is perhaps more brave and unprocessed. There’s may be no worry, no prevaricating before we act. As adults most of our forms of expression are processed and sorted and cultivated and honed so we protect ourselves.

Now I write relatively regularly, and I don’t mean I sit at my desk tossing off sonnets and short stories on a daily basis, nothing like that, but every day I consider what matters to me. I don’t call it journaling, it isn’t journaling, its more of a written practice. It’s not a stream of consciousness either. It’s more of a list of fundamentals that I check in with.  I try and express something about my world and how I receive and respond to it. I try and communicate something that hasn’t been edited to death or constrained. It’s easy for me to do the cultivated, clever-clever stuff.  It’s how I used to protect myself.  But I’d rather be connected to something different now. That isn’t to say, I don’t enjoy creating something that is cultivated and honed but  I’m just saying that expression can be attached to something less formalised, something totally individualised that doesn’t necessarily have to even be communicated. To withhold is one way to express. To be silent (like teen Nicky) can be as potent a means of expression as a writerly or artistic roar.

The ‘Frida’s’ of this world who stand before you when you are in need but have chosen not to communicate, maybe don’t need to know the subtly and the specifics behind your reasons to not express in that moment, at that time.  And even if you did express it,  the reality is that maybe people don’t really want to know what is really going on or maybe can’t even take it.   Maybe, it’s easier to fling out a truism than to respond to someone who has had all their words taken away from them; it’s sometimes  easier to turn your back away from an act of creative silence than it is to greet it and meet it in its truest form.


N.b . I wrote this piece several weeks ago and reading it back today I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to get at, if I’m honest. It feels difficult to truly define what the correlation is between my childhood memory and its difficulty and the need for me to relate this to expression in a wider sense. I’m slightly at a loss and it leaves me pondering but I thought I’d post it anyway.


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