Chapter 12 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. The previous 11 chapters can be found on the link above or in the Categories link on the right. The rest will appear on here over the coming weeks.
“Lorete Krukowska, that’s who you mean!” Henry exclaimed as he finished his coffee, “oh yes, we all know her. Loads of cash swilling about, ruining the markets. Trawling the world to fill this ‘goddam gallery’” he finished in a mocking southern drawl, “hard nosed bitch”.
“She from Virginia?” Peter impishly asked at hearing such a bad accent.
“… somewhere like that, but you know what I mean”
“What’s that you’ve brought for Rachel?”
“Oh, some drawings. We’ve been given box loads by the estate of Raymond Miller, by some greasy little solicitor in Dawlish, thought she may be interested”
“Raymond Miller. That’s a name from the past”
“And now passed on… we used to sell his work, went out of favour years ago, but its good stuff, heaven knows what we’ll do with it all.”
“He used to do some teaching when I was at college, life drawing that sort of thing. I never really came into contact with him. Really old-school”
They sat staring at the set, now almost complete.
“It’s taken you longer than I thought”
“It’s so big, probably too detailed” Peter answered.
“Does Marianne need any assistance with the bless-ed Lorete, she’ll be a hard nut to crack?”
“No, I think she’ll be OK, pretty hard stuff herself is Marianne when she wants to be”
Tom and Rachel came noisily through the doors, laughing.
“Hi, Henry!” Rachel waved a French stick at him.
“I like the look of that” he replied. “I’ve got something to show you”
He took the folder to a table and he and Rachel began to leaf through a series of drawings. Tom joined Peter and sat down.
“You’ve been quiet Tom, anything up?”
“Oh you know. I went home for a few days. Dad kept asking what I’d do after this was over, Mum said I looked thin. They kept insisting that I could go home anytime, you know the sort of thing, I wouldn’t get in their way…”
Peter said he did know, but didn’t really, that sort of relationship had never happened in his family. Tom looked down and fed up.
“Seen any of your old college friends?”
“No, not really. I did some odd jobs for people. Everyone seems to have gone home or are working their arses off paying off debts. This’ll just about clear mine, thanks.”
Peter waved a hand to say ‘don’t worry’.
“Peter, d’you mind if I take the rest of the day off, I’m not really concentrating on things, I don’t want to make a mess”
“Sure, have a good walk round. Why not go to that show at the ICA, it looks good”
“I may” and with that he lumbered out of the room. Peter wondered if Angela had said anything yet, but daren’t ask him, didn’t dare even hint he knew.
“Stunning texture” Rachel was saying as Peter joined them to look at the drawings. “Look Pete, these are wonderful. Henry says he taught you.”
“No… he did some teaching at my college, but I’d given up all this sort of thing. If I remember there was only two or three who did life drawing then, wasn’t the thing to do, maybe I should have. I just splashed paint around.”
He studied the fine drawing technique. Cross hatching, strong line and features, disciplined work. Miller caught the real essence of skin and muscle.
As Rachel was turning a drawings over slowly. Peter put his hand on her arm and took a sheet from her hand.
“Can I take a look at this one?”
Peter walked over to the window with it. It was a highly finished drawing, of a male black model in a boxing pose, seen from behind the right shoulder. The skin was perfectly captured, the muscles shimmering and taut, the hands emphasised but in proportion, however it was the half hidden face that caught Peter’s eye.
Surely not’ he thought, ‘too much of a coincidence’. He turned the drawing over, it was dated 18th March 1956, then in a softer pencil Coombe Bay. He turned it over again, the face was away from the artist, but the structure of the cheek and jaw were clear.
He went back to them.
“Are there any more of this model Henry?”
“Oh loads at the Gallery, as I said boxes full and no-one to leave them to.”
“Can I keep this here?”
Henry looked a bit stern.
“I’ll buy it!”
“OK Peter, come over later and I’ll show you the rest”
“Did he work in London?”
“Miller? Oh yes, through the War then moved away just after”
“Devon, I remember, he used to come up from Devon”
“Yes, that’s where these came from. Paris as well for a few years, late forties I think. He did those portraits, you know, in Southampton or somewhere like that. Boxers, cyclists, there’s that great one of an acrobat standing on one hand.”
“Never been to Southampton Henry”
“I’d like to see some more” Rachel joined in, “he was a good model… look at those tight muscles”.
“Mmm..” Henry said in a not too artistic way
Peter took up the drawing again.
“It’s got to be him… it’s Vic I’m sure it is” he said softly to no-one. “That has to be Vic. Younger, what nineteen, twenty?”
Henry joined him, “Someone you know?”
“Maybe, not sure, I’ll come over and see the rest”
“As I said, there’s loads at the gallery, they’re cluttering a corner of my office”
Peter imagined Henry wouldn’t like dusty boxes in his immaculate office. He felt pleased because sometimes he’d not believed Vic about the artists he talked about meeting.
“Oh, Henry. I forgot. I’ve had some reporter after me, The Independent I think they said. I didn’t reply, I thought you were probably dealing with it.”
“About a week ago, only just remembered, sorry”
“That’s OK, Independent’s not much use for us anyway, I’ll ring him. Buyers tend to get The Times, unless it’s for the supplement of course”
“No, it was definitely a her, I remember now, Eva Wilson”
“Never heard of her. I’ll contact them, see you later! She’s not their usual critic, perhaps they’ve appointed someone new, about time too.”
“Marianne Maddox” Alice said “Lorete Krukowska”, introducing them to each other at the door of Peter’s studio.
“Just Lorete, please” Lorete said in a soft southern American accent. Marianne studied the immaculate clothes and hands, perfectly finished, nails shaped and dark smooth skin. She quickly hid her own, which were permanently ingrained with blue black paint, in her back pockets.
“I’m so pleased you could come” she said, then to herself ‘for God’s sake Mari you sound like the Queen’.
Lorete was considering at the quilt, set up on the wall where Peter usually hung drawings.
“It’s amazing… have you seen this Alice! Hey look at that” she went over and put her hand on a section with a plastic car , “… and this, oh and look at that”. In her excitement her accent thickened. She stood, her legs crossed ballerina-like and two fingers over her mouth,“…and Alice says you’ve got as many you’ve not used?”
“Yes, about two hundred more, I chose fairly randomly, though I have my favourites.”
“I bet you have… I bet you have… Oh look at that one, where did you get that from? And against that… hey that’s not painting, that’s poetry!” There was a deep emphasis on ‘poetry’ and Alice and Marianne stood and nodded their heads.
“You know Marianne, I’ve got the perfect site for this…”, Marianne tried to intervene, “no..no.. let me finish. The new wing. It’s a long series of galleries, with a walk space down the middle, no doors and at the end of it all I’ll put this, so that when you see it first it’ll look like a few coloured shapes, then when you’ve been through each gallery it’ll slowly come to life, the crowning point. That’s it, this is what I’ve been looking for!”
“Please, Marianne it’s perfect. Hey look at that I had one of those when I was a kid… and you’ve got another, I really must take a closer look.”
“I didn’t plan to…”
“And you work here, live in this town?”
“Yes, I teach part time at the local college”
“Teach! Oh you really are the answer to my dreams. My old school, Juliet Farrow Women’s College in Wilmington, North Carolina, you know it?” Marianne shook her head, “No… well they’ve asked me to look for someone to be the artist in residence, you’d have a studio, students would book time with you and they pay senior professor fees. You get to go to all the conferences, you know like that one in Beijing, and have your own show every couple of years. And this, they’d love it, oh yes, what d’you think?”
This was all too much for Marianne. Was this some softening up process she thought. She could see Lorete was as hard as nails whatever coos and fancies she put on.
“Well I’d have to talk it over with my partner”
“Oh, she could come too, there’s a house goes with the job”
“It’s a he actually, this is his studio”
“Oh, well” Lorete said shrugging her shoulders condescendingly.
“But I am interested” Marianne said quickly and firmly, ‘who wouldn’t be’ she thought.
“Marianne” Lorete said firmly, “say the word and I’ll fax them. The Principal is over here soon, to look at Alice’s show, and set some partnership up with an Oxford college, she’ll just love this when she sees it and you can meet her then, talk it over.”
“I’ll make some tea”
“Not for me” Lorete said, “I only drink blueberry extract”
Marianne left the room with the kettle. When she returned it was clear that Alice and Lorete had been deep in discussion.
“Your partner is Peter Marten then?”
“Yes, he’s away doing a set, for a ballet, but it looks like the show won’t even open now, pity really”
“He’s doing well, I suppose you feel a bit intimidated by his success”
“No… no it’d never even crossed my mind that way, we don’t compete” Marianne replied.
“Don’t you? Are you sure?”
“No, we really are a team. I’m pleased he’s got on, he’s worked hard, it’s taken him years”
“It’s taken you years too” Lorete said.
“…he actually prefers my work to his own!”
“That’s often the case. Male artists are all either certain they’re genius’s or certain they’re failures, whichever way their ego is usually larger than their penis”
Marianne poured tea.
“Marianne, I really do want to buy this. I want it for the gallery.”
“But it’s for the show, I want it to tour”
“Of course I wouldn’t dream. It can go on the tour and when it’s over we’ll have it. They’re still building the wing, it won’t be ready for two years”
“I don’t want to seem pushy but we really must get this finalised, I have to be in Gdansk on Friday, family stuff you know the sort of thing, and I won’t be back here until your opening. I’ll have our lawyer draw up the contracts and get them to you, or do you want your agent to deal with it. Alice said that slime ball Henry deals for you.”
“Oh no, I haven’t an agent and I haven’t agreed to sell it either. I really need some time and you don’t know the price… and well I may not want to sell.”
“Oh you British. Right. Let’s get down to numbers. How much is it?”
Alice who had put the catalogue together for the joint show was about to speak, when Marianne almost shouted out the first number that came into her head.
“One hundred and fifty thousand!”
“Pounds I suppose”
“OK, not a bad price, about what I’d planned, we’ll have it”
Alice looked as amazed as Marianne felt. “Bloody hell” she said.
As Lorete was leaving, she turned to Marianne.
“Ah, just one more thing. Some years ago, when she was in London, one of my committee saw some paintings by a Clare Zetzer, do you know her? I think she went to the college here?”
“No, I don’t remember that name, perhaps before I started… I’ll ask Peter when he gets back… Clare, what name was it?”
Marianne sat down and stared at a small paint splattered mirror.
“What on earth is all this about eh?” she said to her reflection. Her mind was reeling, was this what she wanted? Wilmington? Time to work with no money problems. Studio space, her own house, but Peter? Well he’d go if it was him wouldn’t he, she thought. They were a couple, but they were both artists. she buried her head in her arms on the table and wept.
“Bloody Hell Mari” that was the fifth or sixth time Peter had said it. “Bloody Hell Mari” he said for the seventh.
Peter and Marianne were standing in his studio looking at the quilt before it was packed up and sent off to the exhibition. When Marianne had told Peter about the sale they hadn’t said much, they both stared at the quilt not quite taking it in.
The visit of Lorete had left her in a state of mild shock. She felt at last someone really appreciated her work and what’s more valued it, or was this a nice colourful piece for that end wall, just decoration to fit in with the space.
“Anyway she wasn’t that awful. I felt sort of sorry for her, she seemed lonely, looking for something. I liked her, no pretence.”
“Well I’m proud of you Mari. God knows what Henry’ll say, all that commission he’s missed. Ha! Will you be going over for the opening, unveiling or whatever it’s called?”
“Inauguration, Lorete called it. I suppose so”, Marianne hadn’t told Peter yet about the possibility of Juliet Farrow College, she really wasn’t sure herself yet, there was plenty of time. “I’m afraid it’s women only.”
“All the good things are nowadays”, Peter looked closely at one of the panels “Hey! That’s that scarf I gave you at college!”
Marianne looked closely at the panel as well.
“It was the first present I ever gave you” Peter sounded hurt.
“It had a hole in it and was covered in paint. I hadn’t worn it for years.”