What I know

by Helen Barker

It is impossibly difficult to see my own work. My eyes just get in the way. Sometimes I wish I could take them out in order to look at what I have done.

My friend, who shall remain nameless – but she knows who she is – once told me that the greatest admirer of her paintings was a blind woman. Aside from the obvious joke I found this rather intriguing. My friend painted a portrait of the blind woman’s dog and the picture hangs in her house. I often wonder who admires it most – the blind woman or the dog.

Today I have been wondering about my painting. It is a portrait of Elizabeth I with a toad perched on her shoulder. Should I acquire a toad to view the painting for me? It is a very colourful painting. Disturbingly bright in some ways. Depressingly dull in others. The paint is uneven and heavy handed in the detail, yet fine and timid in other parts. I am still so new to paint, and the paint knows it. The determination to keep going and improve is there, but it does not dull the frustration of knowing there is only so much I can salvage before I just have to move on. I looked at it this afternoon and it seemed so…..wrong. This evening it is almost forgivable. Is this the curse of looking? Perhaps I ought to paint for the blind.

Flicking through a magazine I read something about the frankness of technique inherent in Velazquez’s painting. It was a technique descirbed by Manet as ‘naivete du metier’ – “a candid eonomy in the handling of paint…an abbreviating.” I suspect that my work would benefit from abbreviation…

My painting is a cartoon, a portrait-from-portrait, a mad interpretation of an adventure game. It is an avatar. On my desk sit a stack of Amstrad Computing magazines. Truth be told this is where I found the toad. I love reading articles about ‘games of the future’ in magazines of the past.  It is a comfort to know that I am ahead of the times. I also get drawn in by the stories, the missions and the puzzles to solve. There are whole worlds surrounding each game. I relate to that, I have been thinking, why am I painting Elizabeth I with a toad? I think it is something like this….

You know that saying – write about what you know. You know? A few days ago I knew that I wanted to paint Elizabeth I, a day or so later I knew that the toad wanted to sit on her shoulder. Tomorrow I may know why.