R is for Renaissance

Renaissance was my first art exhibition in London in a gallery on the King’s Road. I dedicated it to the memory of Phoebe and her portraits were the centerpiece. Sometimes I wondered if there could be any triumph in death, given the despair I had felt on days after she passed away.

But my paintings said otherwise. They were defiant and powerful. Phoebe’s blue eyes pieced the canvass and her sublime nakedness was a fist raised in the air against death and all of the Franks and Montys of the world.  The other paintings were a moving chronicle of my long expeditions across London and the characters I met. They were building  a new London from the ashes and showing a spirit that confounded their predicament.

I had high hopes for Renaissance but in the first week few people came into the gallery. There was a trickle of sales but visitors would tell me how London was saturated with exhibitions.
“Yours is a bit different,” said one man. “It makes me feel uneasy to be honest.”
Monty showed up to visit on the Friday of the first week. I saw the wide backside of his Beamer pull up and instantly I felt something tighten inside. Life as a stockbroker was clearly suiting Monty. His car and his coat reeked of long night in the office followed by a gigantic fee. He was playing fastidiously with his lapels, clearly confused by what he was seeing.

“Congrats on the exhibition old boy. Not at all what I imagined.”

“Oh and what did you imagine?”

“Oh God. I don’t know. Tower Bridge. I’m not a big art expert. Not my bag.”

“Well do you like the paintings?”

“They are OK. Someone should have told that old bird to keep her clothes on.”

I felt a prickly sensation and my face reddened. “You are not seeing any beauty in her.”

“Oh God no. Not being funny but there should be a law about what age you can strip off at. I was at Brighton this summer and some of the sights on the beach were horrendous.”

“Well feel free to look around,” I said and moved to walk off, before realizing there was nowhere to walk to in the small gallery.

Monty’s voice followed me. “Have you thought of giving up all this art stuff and getting a proper job? I’m not saying you have no talent but your style is odd. You know anyone can make money in the city if they set their mind to it.”

“It’s not something I have an interest in setting my mind to, but thank you for the advice.”
After Monty left a feeling of bleakness descended on me. For two hours nobody walked into the gallery. My parents were due to see the exhibition tomorrow and I expected similar comments to the ones Monty had made. I had not sold enough paintings to keep me in London for much longer. The image of a cul-de-sac and pleasant semi-detached houses was returning to haunt me. Still something about the perfectly manicured hedges chilled me to the core. I thought about turning the lights out early. It was a drizzly December day. I could not remember how many hours ago it had been light.
A small hunched up man arrived in the gallery just before closing and proceeded to eye up each painting meticulously. It was just my luck to have this kind of visitor in when I wanted to close and drown my disappointment in beer.

The man shuffled up to me and addressed me in a furtive tone that seemed to be muffled by his moustache and the thick coat that was shielding him from the cold night. “Have you been painting for long?”

“Just over two years.”


“Oh why?”

The man said nothing and went on muttering to himself and making notes in a small pad. “The girl asked you to paint her because she knew she was dying?”

“That’s right. How do you know that?”

“I can tell. It comes across from the paintings. Look. I’m an art writer for one of the papers. I don’t usually do these small exhibitions but I like this story. I love her expression and the way you have conveyed it here. Do you mind awfully if I come back tomorrow with a photographer. It’s kind of late and I have to get home to the wife and kids.”

I told him I didn’t mind in the slightest.

Usual disclaimer about all this being fictitious etc.


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