“I bet you wished my studio looked like that!” said Julian as we passed the photograph of the French artist in his immaculately ordered space. We were in the Beaubourg in Paris – now re-hung so you see every painting again as if for the first time – in a small but illuminating exhibition of artist’s studios.
“Oh yes I do” I cried with rather too much conviction.
Next we passed the photograph of Francis Bacon in his workplace with its accompanying video. You could hardly call that bomb-site a studio I thought to myself.
“Art is about making order out of chaos” he said from behind the railings of fossilised brushes in rusty tin cans. “I find beautiful forms in chaos…” Paint-caked plates were piled shoulder-high, making the artist look like a bus boy at the end of his shift in a greasy spoon. Bacon’s toes were covered in rubble. I thought of the towering meringues of paper towels drenched in white spirit, the curls of shrivelled peel, the squashed strawberry, the lemon sagging from the inside with its blue furry coat; of the piles of books open at favourite still lives and portraits, our best pottery perched dangerously on makeshift shelving and containing some unnameable ex- vegetable. (I was of course thinking of Julian’s hemp hayloft.) Then I thought of how many of the objects could cause him to trip and my stomach turned at the hole in the floor and the sheer drop down in to the gallery.
(We must get some railings, I also thought, and a staircase to replace that ladder. Our cat Manon has mastered the ascent in order to be with her master and, though her descent is less elegant, she is still the only one not risking death every day getting down from there.)
Later, passing my favourite Matisse, The Violinist, I noticed that the musician’s head was empty; a mere oval outline filled with the clouds in the sky in the window. It is a long time since I felt like that, I thought.
I have been in Paris for a month playing Carmen at Chatelet. The last performance is tomorrow and then I am finally home where my own room – now revamped and rewired by Julian’s brother Steve and ready to paint - at last awaits me. I haven’t blogged for a while, I know. I have not been drawn to words, camera or to the computer. Somewhere in my unconscious and on my desktop I have a memoir which has been reincarnated as a novel, and which is wondering whether to be born again as a memoir. I pictured my days in Paris giving all my attention to this dilemma before swanning down from Belleville to Chatelet on the Eleven for the gig. As it turns out I have done everything but and am filled instead with butter, art, adoption, sushi and gossip. Three days ago, with the help of a Bach cantata, I finally opened the folder called ‘first draft?’. Despite its identity crisis it deserves to be finished, I thought. Luckily when I get home I will have a nice clear space in which to fill the oval of my head with clouds in which I can hopefully find some beautiful forms.