Something that became overtly apparent when we were packing up to move is that we have a great deal of everything. Too much. Including pictures. Too many. Oils, water colours, prints and mixed media; landscape, still life, abstract. Although we had no more wall space, for a long time I yearned for a portrait. Not of me, or even of him, just of someone I liked the look of, a fine cut of gib.
Ilfracombe, as many others do, has an annual art trail. Local artists set up temporary exhibitions in their homes, or perhaps collaborate with friends, and invite the general public to view their work and perhaps buy a picture or two. We enjoyed this event. It was a good opportunity to explore corners of the town we hadn’t come across before and have a nosy about in strangers’ houses. Oh yes, and admire the wealth of art this small town has to offer. Whilst on one of these arty meanders we wandered past an artist studio-come-home-come-gallery. This property is adjacent to a set of traffic lights approaching the High Street and I had often admired the paintings in the window as I waited for green to hurry me along. I had never actually seen the door open before so took the opportunity to dangle a foot across the threshold and call “are you on the Trail?” to whoever might be lurking inside. “I’m not, but please come in”, was the reply from the shadows.
As we stood chatting to the owner/artist, Nigel Mason, my eye was caught by a small square painting of a woman. In fact I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The mens’ conversation faded into the background as I studied this bright young face or was it a dark young face, I wasn’t quite sure. Then, without consultation or further ado I asked “How much for that one?”, pointing in her direction. Nigel had a think and pulled a very reasonable price out of the air for our consideration. We checked purses and wallets and offered what we had in cash, which he accepted.
Before we left, carefully wrapped painting in hand, I wondered “Who is she?” And I was surprised by Nigel’s answer. He had painted this picture from a photo he had found of a young Russian woman who was just about to be transported to The Gulag.
I knew exactly where I wanted her to live. In our bedroom, on the wall just above the chest of drawers, the same height as a mirror, so that every day I could look into her eyes and she could look into mine. Who knows what insignificant misdemeanour caused her internment, who knows what horrors she endured, who knows if she ever left her prison? But she lives on, in Nigel’s portrait, in my thoughts and I like to think she won in the end.