I am a painter. I like painting more than anything else, except obvious things like food and drink, that all sensible people like. As a painter, I have quite a lot of talent – I’m not sure yet how much – and a fairly complete mastery of most of the technical requirements; that is, I am an instinctive colourist, and my composition is interesting.
I have my difficulties, but who does not? I get on fairly well with people, and I ought to be quite as successful as a dozen other painters – but I am not. I never have been since my very first one-man show, when I was discovered by the critics, taken up – and very quickly put down again – and sold out.
“Sold out” is the just phrase. I was twenty-two after that show. Apart from quite a lot of money, the way I understand it, I had one oil painting left, three drawings, and very little common sense, my most valuable remaining possession. The common sense prevented me from believing what the critics said and considering myself a genius, and not only a genius but a painter who would always be able to live by painting exactly what he wanted to paint when he wanted to paint it.
I did, however, think that I could probably afford to marry Leila, rent my own studio, and stop being a student.
But I have never had another show which sold like that first one, although I am a better painter than I was then. My work is as contemporary as any; of course it is; how can anyone intelligent and honest paint behind his time, deliberately or by accident? But more and more critics support what is called Action Painting and Other Art, when a painter is trying to be as different from anyone else as he can. Anyway, it has been clear ever since that first sell-out show that I have an old way of seeing things and am really an academic.
My second show went fairly well because Other Art had not then got very far. But ever since. Not that I don’t sell a certain amount privately.
I do. To the uneducated and even the half-educated my work seems to give a good deal of pleasure.
However, in the last two years things have got very tight.
We can’t pay the quarter’s rent and we can’t afford not to, so something had to be done. So my applying for a most unpleasant job which my uncle could give me. I got it. Start next Monday.
When I got back from the interview, Leila was sitting in the studio, which she seldom does, as it was a working-room entirely. She said, “Hi, Bill. You’ll never guess what’s happened.”
I thought it was something awful because she hadn’t even asked me about the job. I said, “What?”
“Garrard came – just before lunch.” Garrard is my dealer, and I’d been trying to get him to come and look at my work and arrange for a show for the last year. Dealers!
I sat down and asked Leila what he wanted.
“He came because there’s a Mrs. Spencer Thompson who’s interested in having you paint a small portrait of her daughter. She’s American and very rich and she wants you to paint it.”
“Very nice of her. She must have seen one of the early portraits. Did you make Garrard look at the work? Did he say anything about a show?”
Leila went bright pink and opened her eyes much too wide as she does when she’s surprised. She said, “It’s the most extraordinary thing. It’s really awfully funny, I suppose, but I think you’ll be furious. I was just cleaning up in here a bit as you were out”.
I said, “I wish you wouldn’t. The still life on the easel’s wet – it doesn’t want a lot of dust sticking to the surface.”