The stories I remind myself that I meant to tell. The Mr Fisher’s story, when I think about it, is not much of a tale was at all. In fact when I think about Mr Fisher, I realise that I don’t know any real facts about the man, except that he was in his late 50’s early 60’s and owned the house that I once lived in.It was also “a story” that occurred long time ago, so in truth,has become vague in places, that said, if I put my mind to it, maybe something I thought I’d forgotten, will resurface.
I was 19 years old and had just finished my first year of study at Falmouth School of Art. I had been living in a small room in the attic of one of the halls. I’d been happy there, it was private and quiet, I had a great view of the sea and was less than a minute away from the college.
At the end of the academic year all the students living in the halls had to find alternative living accommodation. I had friends who were setting up a house on the other side of town just before the start of the autumn term and we had agreed that I would take a room there. In the meantime, I needed somewhere for my things. I had no plans to stay in Falmouth during the holidays,as it was my habit to return to London to see my mum and this year I wanted to visit my dad in Spain while he was working there. So I asked Victoria if she wouldn’t mind storing my things in her loft room. We have met at the college in February that year and I’d got to know her during a couple of weeks in the life room. I remember Ray Atkins had set a pose for her that was similar to be in a Bomberg painting. She had to lie back on a mattress with her right leg falling off the end of it,and her left foot wedged behind her right knee. It was quite a compromising pose from one angle...I remember circling around the room trying to find the best vantage point that wasn’t “the one”. I drew from a few places but couldn’t avoid the fact that that was the only good view, which I might add, also happened to be the same as the original painting.
At the time I was going out with a ceramicist from the college, who later was not amused with the choice of vantage point...but that’s another story. Ashley, one of the other students in the class obviously was, as he set up his easel next to mine and meticulously copied all that he could see, hair by hair, like a forensic. Ashley was a slight figure who lived in a small bungalow at the top of a hill nearby. We often worked together, although we never really liked each other’s company. I remember in one class not unlike this one, that I had had to stand on a box to see the canvas, due to the reflected light from a high window behind me. A little later in the day, Ashley found the chair on which to stand on and so he was higher than me. The joke was that there wasn’t any windows behind him... he was just short.
Which reminds me of Qiu and the hat, some years later at the Royal Academy. It was the beginning of my second year and I’d been given a space that was directly below the sky lights. It was impossible to see the painting, as there was so much white light coming down. The answer was an old straw hat. It worked, it was practical, that was all. Qiu however, seems to have misunderstood this and decided that it would make a great fashion statement, so later her hat never seemed to leave her head.
Studios and life rooms are always full of such petty things. I guess it’s just a by-product of creative people in a limited space. There was a trick which I guess I learnt very earlier on at Chelsea which went as follows...there would be a whole class standing around with drawing boards next to donkeys and easels. Once the tutor have finished setting the model in the pose everyone would circle around trying to find the best angle to work from. As far as I was concerned, half the battle was to find the right view, and if you are good, and I was, other people would take note and set up right next to you, working practically on top of you at times. After experiencing this one too many times (and believe me, it’s annoying) my trick was to set my easel, wait for half a dozen students to surround me before moving off to the empty space and “the best” vantage point. Good trick, and as you couldn’t be followed there and you had some room for yourself.
Anyway that summer my things resided in Victoria’s room. I went to London, I went to Spain and travelled through France eventually being reunited with them sometime in September.
Victoria painted, or was learning to with the help of her father who lived near Redruth. At the time she used to set up still lives in her room and makes small figure painting using herself as a model…not through choice,but more necessity.
When I arrived back she asked Mr Fisher if it would be fine if I stayed in her room before moving on. He was not happy about this, but he agreed.
The house was in the middle of a terrace, which started at the "Dell" and gradually climbed up the hill , eventually, to lead out of town. Each house had a small shop on the ground floor and access to the first and second floor via an alley at the back. The kitchen was the first room you entered and as there were at least three other people living there one of them was usually cooking something when you arrived. The bathroom was on the left and the rooms, or the doors to them followed after that. Victoria’s was to the right, there were steep stairs as you climbed them the room will emerge carpet first. It was probably the best room in the house, it was certainly the largest and with the steep angled roof and protruding window, the most characterful. On the first day of college I’d been allocated the most shockingly bad space, which was nothing more than a corridor. I remembered walking straight out of college and back to see Victoria.
Obviously I would have been pissed off and angry and my face would have shown every unspoken word. We had a "what to do now" conversation, and not too surprisingly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t work there and would need to find another studio. So we made a plan.
We finished our coffee and headed to the centre of town, all the time looking at the windows above shops to see if they were in use or not. We decided logically that I would approach the shop keeper if they were female and she would go and talk to the men. Base, but obviously made sense practically… as charm and persuasion were rather high on the list of what we were asking. We continued up the High Street in this fashion,stopping here and there with no luck,until we arrived at Theobald’s fish and chips shop. I cannot say I remember Victoria having entered the place, but I remember the expression of her face when she reappeared. She introduced me to Mark Franks, who it transpired owned the building. He led us through the shop and up some stairs to a large bright room on the first floor. It was full of things, but he said we could move them as there was plenty of space and yes, I can set up a studio there. Unbelievable really and not only could I use it but he wouldn’t charge me any money for the space. We returned to her room, it must have been only lunch time, but it had seemed like hours had passed.
I continued to stay with Victoria. The room in the house had been and gone. I liked to be with her, we were happy together, but Mr Fisher wasn’t. When I think about Mr Fisher, I can't exactly bring his face to mind, he appeared to me more as a presence like people do in dreams. I could just judge him by the small amount of what I saw, and what I saw I didn’t like. At the time, I had very little idea of landlords but it didn’t take me five minutes to get the picture. He owned the place and you (well not me actually) only paid to stay, you had no rights and were spoken to as such. A sort of paid guest and I wasn’t even paying I was just someone else’s guest, so I am not sure I know what that made me. Added to this, the old guy had a soft spot for my girlfriend, often we would be in the middle of a chat then suddenly we would hear a noise of the door and his old head would surface just above the sea of old gravy carpet. He would talk for a while, his eyes zigzagging around his property and my girlfriend before submerging, without drowning unfortunately, to check on the other unfortunates. This he did at least once a week.
Every Thursday Victoria would leave to spend a couple of days painting with Pepe, her father. Since moving there, I had done very little night painting, something that I had made a habit of before and sometimes very successfully too. Usually I would start a picture at say 6 or 7 in the evening and continue working until it was finished or that was the theory. I had done just this as it had happened, after spending weeks painting and scrubbing off the image of her in the Bomberg pose. After the last sitting, I took the painting to my studio during a one off "open" all night studio at college and successfully repainted it until 4 am.At other times, the night only ended not on the canvas,but with my fatigue. Anyway, I decided that that night was the night to have a go at the painting of a man with his bike *. So I brought the canvas and paints back and go to work. I guess it went well, I lost it, it returned, I lost it, it surfaced, became submerged, the hours passed, the cups of coffee, the night sky lightened, my eyes tired and eventually without achieving the conclusion I wished for, I fell asleep.
The next thing I know, I’m staring into Mr Fisher’s eyes, his fish face glaring at me from the stairs.
“What do you think you’re doing” he began.
“There is paint on the carpet”.
“No there isn’t, that's what the newspaper was for”.
“The place is a mess”.
“It can be tided”.
“You are only a guest”.
“So what, it’s none of your business, what's going on, and what do you think you are doing, letting yourself in like that anyway”.
He continues, the conversation gets more heated, his tone, his manner, is rude.
I then add “And you complain at me for this, when there are slugs in the bathroom, the kitchen is horrid and your place isn’t much….”.
“Out! I want you out by the end of the day”, the words that followed him out of the door I can’t exactly remember but I know what they added up to "you cunt”.
I don’t know what I did after that, went to college probably… what I do remember was when Victoria returned home later and I told her I had to leave, she burst out crying. Then she was angry. After she calmed down, I told her what I planned to do. I was going to ask Mark if I could stay in the studio for a while before finding a room to rent. So together we left for Theobald’s.
I think the minute we walked through the door Mark knew something was wrong, the expression on Victoria’s face alone told a story. We all went up to the studio and I started to explain what had happened. I remember Mark’s face and his sparkly eyes, he went downstairs for a while and bought us some fish and chips. He had kind words to give, it was fine with him, he liked me, he liked us, I could stay there, but not only that, we could live in the rest of the building, we could move in and stay there, he didn’t want any rent just that I make a design for his shop...that was all the payment he wanted. I remember later that evening he invited us out, we drove with him and his wife to a restaurant I don’t know where it was, I remember he had Gracelands on in the car,the night sky was full of stars and how brightly they shone that night.
So in fact this is not the Mr Fisher's story, but the Mark Frank's story. I can remember his face. Many thanks Mr Franks.
*This painting become “ The Messenger”. The original version was abandoned and later over painted. The idea for the picture simply came from a series flat tyres I had had. I made some drawings in my first year at Falmouth in 1988. The painting was completed in the autumn of 2001. It was sold in 2002 and went to Los Angeles in 2003