The Fat Nude (with the uneven knees)
….. and, how I ended up in Christie’s Auction House surrounded by a sea of bubble wrap, with a fit of the giggles.
The Fat Nude (my title, not the artist’s) is a pen drawing measuring approximately 100 x 60 cm framed. It was drawn by an Indian artist called Francis Newton Souza [i] in 1962 and it has spent much of the last half century face against a wall. You can see why.
This isn’t the best photograph, but I had to take it through the glass to avoid any risk of damaging the picture. Actually, at one point I nearly ruined the picture and the story. It’s really difficult to take a photograph through glass without getting a reflection of yourself, lights or windows. I carried the picture around from room to room to find a light place with the least reflections and finally settled on my bedroom. The room was light and there was a white duvet cover. There I was standing (wobbling may be a more accurate description) on the bed, one foot either side of the picture (remember it’s size) so that I could get a shot directly from above. My camera slipped from my hand and with a fine tuned, ninja move I caught it only to come perilously close to landing in the centre of the ‘work of art’. All that effort and you can still make out the shadow of my arm holding the camera above the picture.
So, some background first…..
Dad fancied himself as a bit of an artist and the house and the garden were full of his creations and sculptures. Following his waste-not-want-not philosophy, all of these sculptures were made out of re-used materials. Nothing ever went to the rubbish tip from our house, in fact other people’s rubbish seem to find its way there. In the garden were upturned washing machine drums with items placed strategically on top. Attached to the ends of old curtain rails that were stuck into the ground were plastic dolls heads, skulls (usually animal), pieces of flint and the ever useful two-pint plastic milk bottles. In fact walking in the garden in high winds could be a hazard without a hard hat as the curtain rails would waver quite violently from side to side throwing off their chosen adornment.
Inside the house there would be creations made from polystyrene packaging, stones, bits of wood, plastic lids, old cd’s and yet more two-pint plastic milk bottles. These creations would be pinned to the notice board, suspended from the ceiling and glued to the walls, as well as filling any gap or free surface in the house. Now, even I recognised that there was a limit to how much of dad’s stuff I could keep so, sad to say, many of the creations from plastic and polystyrene were duly recycled. All that remain now are a few small items dotted around the house and some of the metal structures in the garden.
I don’t think this one, made from old plug pins, would look particularly out of place alongside the Carl Andre’s Bricks or Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal (Fountain) in the Tate Modern
Some time in the early seventies my dad organised a Bring-and-Buy sale to sell some of his sculptures and raise money for charity. As was the tradition with these sales (many years before charity shops took off and well before boot sales), people who attended these events also brought with them things to donate for sale.
……..and that was how I came to have the Fat Nude.
Dad’s poster, that I found amongst his papers (I told you he didn’t throw away anything) was duplicated in foolscap on the school Gestetner. Anyone under 50 will probably not remember foolscap-size paper or duplicating machines. Foolscap was the irritatingly-sized paper that was too big for A4 ring binders, so at school you ended up with a bit of your sheet sticking out of either end of your folder and it eventually became so dog-eared it was useless. Duplicating machines (Gestetners) were what we had to use before photocopiers were widely available. I can’t remember exactly, but there was something pink involved and you had to type on a special bit of paper which was attached to the duplicating machine. You then turned a handle and your copies came out of the other side like magic – oh yes we really knew how to live in the seventies!
Bob Cobbing [ii] was one of dad’s old friends who had made the journey up from North London. He brought with him the eponymous drawing, as well as some of his own works, to donate to the sale. I only recently discovered, when trying to find some link between Bob and the drawing, that he was one of the movers and shakers of the London poetry, writing and arts scene in sixties London and quite probably rubbed shoulders with Souza. Dad had met Bob through a writing group which was run under the umbrella of the Hendon Experimental Arts Group and later led to the formation of the Writer’s Forum. Among dad’s papers I found a programme from a play that had been put on by the group and in which my dad had appeared.
Check out the Producer!
On with the story….
Christie’s have a page on their website where you can upload a photograph of an item and request a free valuation. I have to say I wasn’t expecting much of a response; I had previously sent them details of a pair of binoculars and they had not considered them to be of any value. That’s another story, but I eventually exchanged them in a museum car park for over £1000, so what did they know?
Anyway, they were apparently Souza experts, having sold a large portion of the Souza estate some years previously and they were really interested in seeing the picture.
So, that is how Paul and I came to be sitting in Christie’s in London; drowning in a sea of bubble wrap and brown tape, and not taking proceedings with the seriousness befitting of such a grand place. (Yes, we were giggling like schoolchildren).
As yet another aside to this story, I have to tell you about the bubble wrap.
This bubble wrap represented a hoarder’s success. A few years ago, much to my mum’s horror Dad had gone for a browse around Staples and had exited carrying a roll of bubble wrap that was nearly as big as him (not too hard when you are only 4ft 11ins). “It will come in useful one day” he told her. The roll then remained in the living room of the house for several months, unsuccessfully blending in with the furniture and not having come in useful on any occasion so far. Eventually when mum could stand it there no longer, I agreed to take it away to store in my garage “until they needed it”. Needless to say it had sat in my garage for several more years again without ever “coming in useful”.
It was while I was rolling out metres and metres of the stuff onto my hall floor to wrap the picture ready for its journey to London, that I had to smile and say out loud “You were right dad, it did come in useful”.
Christie’s is one of these places that when you enter through the doors that have been held open by the doorman, you feel like you have stepped from reality into an alternative universe. Objects of desire are sold for vast prices, by people from privileged backgrounds to people from privileged backgrounds. It felt somewhat surreal and vaguely comical. Here we were with our bubbled-wrapped fat nude, sitting in the lobby watching projected images of paintings that had been sold for millions of pounds. By the time Anastasia and Damien had escorted us into a room to unpeel the numerous layers of bubble wrap and enthuse about the drawing, the giggles could be suppressed no longer. They clearly hadn’t spotted the deformed calf when gave us a guide price of £3 – 6,000 and I wasn’t going to be the one point it out.
Some more drawers for you…..
…and more collections
I leave you with my Christmas card photo which this year is made up of an assortment from Dad’s Drawers. Anyone visiting the house over the last few weeks would have found it laid out on the floor of the conservatory with a rather complicated ladder structure to enable me to get the best aerial image possible. Don’t tell Paul, but I was up a ladder when nobody else was in the house and there was lots of leaning involved. (I am not allowed a chain saw either).
Oh, and just to keep you posted. Gun number four was found yesterday. Fortunately, it has ‘Starting Pistol’ written on the handle so no panic needed.