Monday, May 26, 2008

The Burial of Mickey Mouse: Part 21 continued

A large part of T's early childhood was spent in hospital, having operations to repair the damage done to his guts when a lorry ran over him as he was crossing the street. He had an impressive network of scars over his chest and belly as a reminder. Bright and curious, he absorbed every scrap of information that each new experience provided. He knew all about plants, about buildings, was an expert framer - he showed me how to separate a sheet of shimmering, trembling gold leaf from its 'book' and lay it down gently on the bare wood - and he could repair almost anything. His first full-time job was with London Underground, working on the tracks. But in his spare time T began to paint and to exhibit in the amateur shows at his workplace.

I don't know exactly how old T was when he first met M but probably in his late teens or early twenties. She was older and inhabited an intellectual upper middle-class world totally different from anything he knew. T's mother was the cleaner in M's Kensington home and that's how M happened to hear about her creative young son. M was a sensitive sculptress but had, above all, a gift for detecting and encouraging genuine talent. When she saw T's early paintings she immediately took him under her wing and thus began a Pygmalion-like saga, with the genders reversed. Under M's tutelage T began to attend art classes, visit museums, theatres, concerts. She told him what books to read, what music to listen to, but with his usual apetite for knowledge, T soon out-distanced his mentor and a few years on there wasn't much in the cultural lexicon that he hadn't assimilated, whilst never losing touch with his cockney roots. His paintings were austere, beautifully constructed (mainly still-life) and he could have made a career of it had he wished to. But he didn't have that ambition and his daily job continued to be with London Underground. Until he took up photography...


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