I had bought a couple of cheap frames while I was in town Inevitably, as it was a spur of the moment purchase, they were the wrong size for the paintings I intended to frame, but, with the thought of the boxes of old scribblings and paper piled in the corner upstairs, a trip to the studio might produce something.
Now, let’s be fair. Although I paint and have a room grandly referred to as the studio, in actual fact it is the simple luxury of a tiny back bedroom now vacated by the last of the fledglings. It is space I inherited from my younger son and the luxury of a room little bigger than a cupboard cannot be overstressed when canvasses the size of a small county have, hitherto, been painted on an adapted deck chair in the living room, getting in everyone’s way and making dinner taste inevitably of turpentine and varnish.
It is ironic, of course, that I finally have this space to use uniquely for painting yet, when I do paint, I tend to bring the whole lot downstairs so I can spread out, oblivious of the mess or the turpentine flavoured coffee as there is now only me and the dog…and she will curl up quietly under the easel wherever it is. It is the only time she does.
The piles of boxes hold sketches and pads full of stuff going back years…decades. I keep meaning to go through them and throw the rubbish away, which would be most of it to be honest, but I never get round to it.
For years they were shoved into the attic to make way for an ever increasing household as my own children grew, stepsons, their children and dogs took over the small house. In relative silence I stood by as more and more of the things by which I thought I identified myself… books, paintings, photographs and memories from the past… were pushed to one side to make way for others and the necessities of daily life.
I imagine many people will identify with this if they think about it, in some form or another. It may be that personal pleasures and hobbies are foregone in order to fund things for the children. Time, energy and opportunity are spent where the priorities and necessities lie. And at some point most of us turn round and wonder who on earth we have become, because it sure as hell isn’t who we thought we would be.
It took me a while, of course… half a century or so… to really grasp that the ‘things’ don’t matter. They do not define me, simply remind me of times, places and people I have known. They may reflect my tastes or my efforts, my experiences or my hopes and dreams. But they are not me. They are not the experience, the person, the place or the dream. They are not even the memory. They are just things. Precious by association, meaningful because of memory, irreplaceable sometimes, but they only describe or reflect, they do not define.
And I have a feeling that once you come to that realisation, you are able to let everything go. I’m not suggesting a mass bonfire of memories and photographs here. I mean simply that you can enjoy them for what they are, triggers for memory, reflections of dreams…things you own, but which do not own you.
I was torn between cringing and chuckling at the awfulness of some of the things I had kept in those piles of papers. But I found a few to frame. Not because they have any artistic merit at all, but because they remind me of a journey I have been taking all my life to bring me to today. They remind me that I have had the courage to try something new, to experiment, to play and explore, to laugh at myself, to not be afraid of mistakes or failure, because they teach us more than success, every time.
So I framed past failures and hung them on the wall. And do you know something? They still make me smile.