Falling in love with a once-loathed painting – of my first love
I first fell in love about the time I turned twenty. The relationship was as torrid, as it was brief and was doomed from the start due to irreconcilable logistics – among other things. I was a near-penniless artist, starting out on my career in London, and she was farmer’s daughter from a village near Cremona in northern Italy.
We’d met in London where she was au-pairing, and enjoyed several weeks of passion and fun. She barely spoke a word of English, and my Italian was all-but non-existent, but verbal communication was never an issue, for the simple reason, we didn’t spend much time attempting to talk. Rather, it was the very cliche of the shared language of love and a fizzing chemical attraction.
A short while after her return home I broke off from a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps to visit her , and despite having a wonderful time, I left her knowing that there was little chance of the relationship continuing.
Until recently, I had always regarded a set of pencil portraits, and some romantic gouaches of her by Lake Garda, as my most pleasant mementos of that brief encounter. But then, a few months ago, trawling through slides of some forgotten oil paintings from that period, I discovered a life portrait in oils I had done of her back in London.
At the time, I had dismissed it as clunky and awkward, and I put its “failure” down to me being too stimulated and emotionally agitated by the sitter, and I loathed it so much, I painted over it within days. However, seeing it again, for the first time in 28 years, I found that I actually quite like it, and that in an albeit quirky way (perhaps slightly derivative of Mark Gertler?), it captures something of the tenderness and fascination I had for the sitter. Although I hadn’t realised it at the time, the portrait was as pure an expression of my love as I could have hoped for…