Chapter 15 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. For the previous chapters click the link above or in Categories.
Marianne leaned against the wall of the ramp leading between exhibition levels at The Hayward Gallery, giving orders to three men hanging sections of the ‘quilt’. She wished she’d brought another hundred pieces. Alice the exhibition’s organiser joined her.
“Looks good Mari”
“Looks small, don’t you think?”
“No, it’s just right, and the perfect position.”
“Hmmm” Marianne inwardly answered.
“Looking forward to your trip to Washington? Next week isn’t it?”
“Well it was a bit of a surprise, I mean going over to make sure the setting is right and the wall’s painted in the correct tone, well… must have money to burn, still… Lorete rang and said it would be a good idea, give me a better idea about things and a chance to meet some people”
“I bet you were pleased. Thanks for the percentage cut, it’ll go towards the next show…”
“Well you were instrumental…”
“Oh it’s well worth it, it really is a great piece you’ve made. There’s nothing quite like it”
They stood in silence watching gallery staff hanging the sections for a few moments.
“Have you the list of who’s coming to the opening?”
“Ah yes, I’ll get it to you this afternoon”
Marianne had forgotten all about it. As Alice walked away she began to make up a list in her mind. Peter of course, Mum and Colin – NO!, Angela? was she still in California?, Ryan and Lizzie – not if Angela comes, ‘it’s like a bloody soap opera’ she thought. Anne, Rachel, Henry….
Within an hour she’d found that Angela couldn’t come, and Ryan and Lizzie could. Rachel would come with them, so would Philip, which surprised her. Anne had to take the dog to the vet and would try, Henry was delighted to be asked, though he already had an invitation, he was on their regular guest list. There were also some old friends, some of whom Marianne wasn’t sure about meeting again.
The concrete galleries echoed to a hum of voices, some laughter, the clinking of glasses. Marianne stood near her piece and mused to herself that openings are universally the same. Older men in smart suits with well dressed younger women; students who somehow wrangled invitations drinking as much wine as possible and nicking food; old friends of artists too embarrassed to say how much they dislike or don’t understand the work; artists’ parents feeling out of place; artists’ children running around bored and being annoying; people there to be seen with their backs to the work. She didn’t really like them, preferring to see an exhibition at quiet times when she could concentrate.
She was adrift on a sea of comment.
“It’s amazing… I mean it really is, I never thought…”
“It’s wonderful darling, so much invention…”
“I could never… I’d love to… so much detail…”
“Oh look… look Keith it’s the bill from that meal!”
“What a coup… selling it for so much, I’m green with envy…”
“Can you do another one… smaller perhaps?”
“There’s no soul, all I see is a lot of love of materialism…”
“It’s a statement of the evils of consumerism, but is that all?”
“You could have done that with a screwed up Sainsbury’s bag, it’s empty…”
“Just a wall full of pretty images”
“I love it, it’s so free and yet each section is a strong solid image”
“… a juxtaposition of all that’s deemed important in this crap society of ours”
“Did she have to make such blatant sexual imagery…”
“Do you think it’s a yearning for children and the onrush of menopause”
“There… yes that… I had one of those when I was little…”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”
“How would you like to make another as a joint work with this women’s commune in Arran… we could all share in creation… give me a bell…”
“We must get together, it’s been so long, when you’re back from Washington…”
“Here’s my card give me a bell…”
“Oh let’s have lunch…”
“There’s this bar in Soho, a bit cheeky where they have naked men as waiters… you can touch their cocks… very tacky… you’d love it!!!!”
“How about you and Peter coming for a weekend, we’ve got this cottage in Hampshire…”
“We must have a long chat, I so share your issues of misunderstanding”
“Do you think the Americans will understand it?”
“I hate it, sorry, just too pretty”
“Ryan give me that drink quick, I’ve had enough” Marianne snatched Ryan’s wine and emptied it in one. “I needed that”
“You look worn out Mari… A good showing and they love your work”
“It’s an easy piece to like. I’m not stupid”
“Mari, they love it, I’ve heard them. Anyway, what’s wrong with popularity… in my business we depend on it… and don’t tell me you don’t love people liking what you do”
She had to admit he was right. Around her work the atmosphere was buzzing with laughter and conversation, elsewhere it was earnest and dull as the work on the walls and floor.
“Ryan I’m pleased you and Lizzie could make it”
“When you said Angela wasn’t coming nothing could hold us back!”
“Oh don’t be nasty about Angela. But I must say I’m glad she’s not here”
“We’ve not met yet, the pleasure awaits”
“I thought… oh well… something to look forward to I suppose”
They walked together to the adjoining gallery, stood and silently scrutinised a video installation of three women moving around a kitchen, in slow motion.
“Lizzie said Philip was staying with you, you could have brought him”
“Mari you wouldn’t want him here, God knows what he’s up to while we’re out…”
“Whatever’s wrong? Angela said there were problems but you can’t believe anything she says”
“Well about a month ago I got home and Lizzie and Philip were in the kitchen. He’d arrived with nothing and smelt awful. Lizzie was making him food. I could tell he was on stuff, you see loads of them in my business, and supply half of it to keep ‘em happy, often as part of the contract.”
“Is he OK?” Marianne interjected. Ryan shrugged his shoulders, and continued.
“We agreed he could stay a couple of days and then go back home. Things started to disappear. He stole money, one of my laptops, stuff from the studio, anything, to sell and get stuff, God it was a free ride for him. I’d get mad and Lizzie would get upset, she’d say he wasn’t to blame and I shouldn’t be so hard, you know…”
“Mmm… Angela’s daughter”
“…Anyway one day I got home and the place was full of the filth, looking for drugs. There were dogs and big boots everywhere. It looked like a bomb had dropped. They found his stash, Christ he must have been buying by the cart load. Lizzie wanted to take the blame, but I wouldn’t let her. So we had a night at the nick, trying to explain everything. They let Philip out on bail, no previous you see, and his age, left him in our charge! Bloody cheek of it! I wanted him banged up there and then. It was OK for about a week then it all started again a couple of days ago… Some new light fittings disappeared. Lizzie and I are on a knife edge, he’s got to go, Lizzie won’t have it… So that’s where we are.”
“That’s awful Ryan… poor Philip”
“What do you mean, poor Philip, it’s me that’s paying for his bloody habit… sorry Marianne, but it’s all been a bit much lately”
“That’s OK, if there’s anything I can do… Do you want me to have a word with Angela?”
“No! No please don’t. Lizzie thinks she’s failed with him and Angela will blame her”
“Well that sounds like her, she’s not easy”
Peter and Rachel joined them, the conversation stopped as they concentrated on the video which had now moved into another room where one woman was lying naked under a blue fluffy rug while another was hoovering it.