RED MIST

Have converted to Islam: it was an honour killing only money saved me; Hastings never looked so clean as the day I was cleared.

To walk by the sea and know the slut is dead never to harass me again oh the bliss, I killed in an instant with no pain but they took forever now I think education opens and trust schools are best suited to me no?

My face is pinched in the clippings I pore over -
managerial my expertise in the husbandry of itchy women.

Any takers: I'm up for fostering, just imagine I moved in next door; would our eyes meet over the frosty windscreens or would you pass head down as I bring home the papers - I could teach your daughters PSHE or Citizenship - vital skills in the knowledge based economy.

Don't think life is easy now Ho No, scripts arrive reconstructions are awaited, I plan to adopt a family of Lithuanians or transplanted Roma.

Surly those seaside towns that need this scandal,
where did I hide my garments, oh come on -
see the bins at B & Q or dredge the Channel -

Seriously, perhaps there is a path in the lost woods where once a scarlet lover dallied, between shore and chalk they burned until only a fine mist remained: that tamed expert claimed she exhaled almost a sad sigh on dying.






THE LEGENDARY JOURNAL OF DISAPPOINTMENT

I. The problem - Auld Lang Syne - McLintock and his teeth

Did I mention there was pubic hair in the mousaka? At the department Christmas dinner I arranged. McLintock was ecstatic: 'Christ, imagine what they put in the taramoslata!'

I fucking hate that man. I'll dance on his grave even if he's buried at sea. The world's greatest living Rabbie Burns scholar, i.e. a carpet-bagging ginger menace. Anyway how I loathe Burns, his tin-eared lachrymose drivel reeking of whisky puke and iron brew.

Tourette's syndrome by proxy; I followed him home one night; pissed on the roses and did a shit in his greenhouse. As a child I'd ask 'Mummy what are fat people made from?' 'Why, fat of course: pure lard, fit for the birds to swing from and nibble with their nuts.'

I wait for McLintock to make an appointment. Remember 'Marathon Man'? Many Scots have a fear of dentistry. I was only two when England won the World Cup and remember it like yesterday. McLintock has never recovered from the outrage, scarce a week passes without his mentioning.    

Didn't I say? I failed to get tenure and became a dental hygienist; that suction sound filled my nights with dreams of spiralling down plugholes. Absurdly my qualifications were an impediment. And references!

He won't recognise me behind the face mask.
 

II. A Study in Violence

I'm living in Slough now. Just across from the multiplex, near an Irish pub serving extra-cold Guinness to the IT community. 

How dare you tell me about the working classes; my great grandfather was a coal miner. I think this equanimity and tolerance is from a family commitment to exotic travel during childhood. We so often visited colourful climes and laughed at the natives; I had a young Sowetan as a pen-pal, until my letters were returned 'not known at this address, it's been bull-dozed.'
 
Whitby seemed a good place to cure writer's block. But the room smelt of aftershave and an old woman threw chips at me on the steps to the Abbey. I counted them up and down and never got 199; too many cagouls.

Oh stop. Time for confessions; my brother and I were obsessive phantom phone-callers in the 70s. Only one I remember - 'Is that you swearing Tracy? Wait 'til you get home.'

Poor Trace, how writing kills energy. For weeks I walked around, easy to imagine one's known by nodding at the same faces. I even swam in the freezing sea, nothing but roaring when my head was under, the green like beachcombers‚ glass.     

Aren't these new restaurants toss? I read the reviews in smug broadsheets then make a trembling reservation but don't believe the 'locally-sourced' ingredients; crabsticks and fish paste more likely. A deafening chrome and pine chantry overlooking the harbour; this is England not Nice; why not be proud. I can't say it; so weak, so angry; no way of lancing; no outlet but peregrinations round shops selling candles and water features.

Crawl up the steps to the Abbey. Where's Bram Stoker when you need him? The churchyard shelters a defrocked vicar and his Lithuanian au pair, awaiting redemption by Caedmon's cross.

Awake, oh sleeper, you are the uncreated conscience of my race.

Yes I stole.

A familiar voice checks into the hotel, arguing room rates and bullying reception into serving him Bells at eight am.

McLintock the mystery cunt; my chance approaches. It must be an English attack; maybe I'll sneak like Bertie Wooster into his room with an enormous needle and puncture the hot-water bottle. Prick his sole.

The dentistry? Oh I gave it up. It went the way of all the others.

Now I only garden. Such joy in the greens, unnumbered, there I can think; I‚ve stayed out all summer, waiting for the first cold and leaves to fall, mornings fragile as a baby's skull.    






OPEN LETTER

Dear lover of 'traditional representational painting',

Don't worry, I'm not playing this for laughs. You're the one framed in painting's glory - twin mirrors facing in a velvet room.

What if you don't reflect but think? I want to report on Tracey Emin's exhibition in Oxford.

Please understand the context, a Saturday afternoon in December. Loaded with gifts, I stumbled in.

A guided tour was beginning. Munch's Scream in neon tubing and a nightclub foyer. These aren't my thoughts but the guide's - a reference to teenage experiences and various expletives.

Next patchwork quilts, of Carnaby Street and sideburns. And another bed, this time not just unmade but in a frame of match wood with accompanying cradle. 

I know seaside towns are as much razors as regency - weren't they always such? And if daddy was a Turk then why wouldn't the other kids remark on it, even if calling him a 'wog' is piquant? Imagine how an English dad would seem to Anatolians in some harsh village on the moon.       

So what we have is immersion in icons of excoriation. Don't worry, I kept nipping them with questions: how could I know about the rape and miscarriages, the grit and wash of Margate. And if I did, what was left to uncover?          
 
But (you sensed a 'but'): The triumph in the final gallery. A driftwood ransack pier from memories of mining jetties and home town. Sections reflected out, mixed with the December night and buildings opposite.  

Did I think of Rimbaud in Cyprus or Harar? I must have, since I'm writing this. Have you seen the black and white photos, him standing at the edge and nothing else but a shack or an ostrich.

There is a stripping back which can reveal, even if it's just dilution; not like homeopathy and useless. Think of Goya or that hanged man being dissected in a Flemish painting - the object being not his torn hand (oversized as it is) but the act of peeling until a show of sinew and muscle burns the image. 

Also juxtaposing which can jolt not jar - e.g. Casper David Friedrich's 'Winter Landscape'.

So what if one took one's life (resonance intended) and scattered it like children's clothes? We could hold an exhibition and no one would come. I've already designed the flyers and trawled my biography for women who wouldn't let me do a thing.       

So far you've been conveniently silent. Maybe I can interest you in our guide? A feminist theorist anyone can hate. Or the gallery Director, whose literary references stopped at Byron.

In all art that claims to confront, the problem now is to find a target (there is no object). Some of its exemplars are ethical figures, but how to tell them from the lottery winners? Ethical means not claiming aesthetic credit for water meadow epiphanies, burnt fields, walled towns on hills, sea into swirls of boats leaving on the tide.

Your attention wanders; let's focus on you. I followed on your visit to the Prado. What I admired most was the time taken, rather than rushing for the obvious hits. Me, I have a problem with portraits, although the hair in old paintings fascinates me. But I prefer food or glasses of water - edges and boundaries being important.

Sometimes I've run from galleries - I enjoy the feelings of release. Strange how many Japanese there are in foyers! Recently, I've changed appearance and now grunt or scrutinise intently -
I never put my head on its side.

Cafes are important, as are postcards and monographs. How I admire the hirsute youth of those who serve - they promise conversation and context, but are ruthless on leaving (I've followed and had them run from me).

Back to Oxford. One of the items was a looped video of Emin pruning. The guide explained how 'Tracey' had called and warned she'd be late for the exhibition's opening; every year without fail, this was the day she prepared her roses for winter.

A woman observed that the bushes hadn't been pruned for years. Was that you?  
          
I often wonder what artists do when they walk around. Perhaps they follow me - a version of the 'how many pederasts, murderers, rapists, did I pass today' game.

Maybe she's just honest. Notice how unbearable are those who claim their art is free of the personal - they want to be inside you, and would happily move in and share the bath.
  
At some point we all long for coherence: I sense you do now. As I left the building (a converted brewery) I walked past a pub where two strangers had dissected me.

I posed no threat but lingered like greyness.

Have you visited Reading? I wonder what a representational painter would make of the Oracle Centre. At some time it got too old and the layers turned horizontal to vertical. Many's the day I've travelled its escalators and stared at the trapped water (Kennet, Thames or canal). Each time I was in a film - taking coffee, sharing my nauseous enthusiasms, driving home to unpack.

I go to seaside towns – there's no culture, just alcohol and headlights. I lack trauma, although much has happened to me. I got locked out as a boy and had to see if anyone returned. And my mother was born to penniless Greeks - cleansed and packed off by the Turks. Her work isn't representational or promotional.

In the course of this I'm persuaded. You and me, we're the artists. Where shall we live? Many cities have gone the way of Spitalfields, although drive-by shootings and gun sieges are likely to intrude.

I attended a meeting in central Birmingham (Andersons, an office with Bridget Riley art). My presence was superfluous. Horrible the hatred of the suited ones when they turn on their own!

A place like that in the middle of the country - an artist could as well choose Norfolk or Cornwall. I'd sell to the unfulfilled on holiday from themselves who want colour in swirls or dung heaps.

Emin is a moralist whose Kentish past recalls Miss Havisham. Another piece haunts me, two facing pictures of wedding gowns. Who's the girl on the swings when the park darkens and her parents wonder where she is?

Don't worry; nothing bad happens, but anywhere in England this replays - Saturday afternoons of oxblood boots and fag burns. Take her back to eiderdown warmth and putting out a foot for the hot-water bottle. Shapes on the bedclothes and ice on the windows. Take us all back.

     © Paul Sutton 2006