Shadows and stains

Like Leonardo Da Vinci I would look in fascination at the stains made on a dry surface when as a child I would urinate up the wall. I of course had not heard of Leonardo at the time, only knowing of the presence of Jesus, my parents, my brothers, and sundry juvenile magistrates and coppers in the world. (I under-exaggerate).

Suffice to say on a hot summers day in the school urinal, if I was blessed to be the first to use its facilities, I had a blank canvas. Caverns, caves, monsters, Neolithic forests and shadowy dwarves and troglodytes with enormously long noses that turned into trees, are some of the mysteries of stains I remember from my 12th year. And, precociously drawn to girls, occasionally seeing a naked beauty, or at one time a coupling couple.

I did not know of the drippy, runny paintings of ‘Jack the Dripper’ as Jackson Pollack was known as affectionately. Nor the stain like art of a Franz Kline, or a Sam Francis, and the whole US Abstract Expressionist movement, of which the above painters were devotees.

Or the European version ‘The Tachists”, with Jules Klien dragging paint stained naked women across empty canvas’ being this movements most exhuberant exponent.

No, I was alone, indulging in image making; not weighed down by anything like the decline of Western Civilisation as personified in smudges sold as art in New York or Paris galleries.

I was simply having a slash and being entranced by the designs thrown up by Mother Nature.

Shadows and stains, odd colours and random pieces of design caused by rips of paper on walls, leaks onto ceilings, of which there were many, and the general trash of urban life increasingly fascinated me. I developed a belief that this was God talking to me, letting me know that in his world there was nothing that was truly accidental or unintentional.

When I became a printer on one occasion I printed my own magazine full of questionable poems and illustrated it with stains. Smudges that were like Japanese mountains and valleys. And then I realised that Chinese and Japanese art was very conducive for the smudge and the stain, and had been doing so for thousands of years.

As I lay in my bath where I live now I can look up at a old black beam and note a very fine piece of grey staining. Someone at some time had done some kind of duff repair and left a very enigmatic, dare I say inspiring daub of grey that against the black is beautiful. I look at it constantly when I am in the bath and have left my book beyond reach. So I look at my stain above me with its exciting grey and blackness and am encouraged by the multiplicity of the world and our eye in it.

Stain watching and seeking is my form of contemplation. I do not see breasts or beasts within the shapes as I did as a boy. I seek instead a kind of disconnected-from-the world-thoughtfulness.

And I seek to understand the beauty that often drops onto us randomly like leaves on an autumn walk.

I write this on International Women’s Day. Alas for all the total progress we may wish for women what I describe is not available as a spur to their contemplation. They must resort to other tricks to see beauty in the stain and smudge. I recommend this visual odyssey to all.

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