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The Warp

Autumn, London

The Studio

Autumn. The London studio in which I have arranged to live was built by Burne-Jones to house his pupils. It is huge and bare and a large stove squats ponderously in a corner. The back windows look out into Baron’s Court underground station.

The room is strewed with copies of Le Monde for 1928 and 1929. They have many pages of innocent unclad female figures, smiling and well scrubbed. The studio is walled in dark pitch pine and there are two huge easels which dominate the room like giraffes. Patrick Killery is sharing it with me and has filled it with the oil painter’s paraphernalia that I so love.

Every morning our landlady, Edith Grace, breezes in with cups of tea on a tray, in a long flowing dressing gown. “What untidy boys you are. Why do you have all the furniture squeezed into the corner? I think it’s terrible!”

In one of the basement rooms she has arranged for a trench to be dug. Earth has been scattered over the rolled back carpet. “There were damp patches on the walls,” she explains, “so we dug down to see where they were coming from, and so far we haven’t found anything.”

Her husband, she explained to us, was a fashionable painter, mainly of pictures of monks and nuns. “Nine months ago he died,” she says.

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t say sorry. He was awful. An awful man! My mother never warned me what a man like that could be like.”

She shows us a photograph of the studio as it was in his time. There is a table with bottles on it and I say; “Ah, I see you had something to drink at any rate.” I look closer to see that every table top is covered with bottles.

“He was a drunk. Oh, he was awful! He was terrible!”

We explored our environment. Sometimes Patrick and I drove round town in my silver Frazer Nash BMW with Patrick apparently struggling; “Oh dear, oh dear! I want to get out! Please let me out!”

Arcady, Christopher and I drove into a bus station. Many buses stood there in rows under silver girders. There were no drivers. Then, just in time, I noticed that there was a huge hole in the floor ahead of us and I screeched to a halt on the greasy concrete floor, stopping with one wheel only six inches from the edge of a deep inspection pit.

Patrick has a Minah Bird called Ozymandias which lives with us in the studio and squawks in time to the music we always have playing. Sometimes Ozymandias flies among the rafters of the ceiling, dislodging from them festoons of dust and then diving headlong against the glass of the huge window. Then he will stop, stunned for a while, and then again take to the air and finish prostrate in a small walled-off paint store at the side of the studio that we call The Grotto. Some minutes later he emerges, on foot, bedraggled.

Bruce, an eccentric friend of Patrick, has been staying with us. All one night he groaned and the following day wandered around blowing his nose noisily and then sneezed over everything in turn.

Christopher Johnson, too, is staying with us. He must find it hard to leave his academic hole in Oxford, the delights and decay of the conversation at the dons’ high tables. Like a domesticated piece of Reg Butler sculpture he sprawls up in bed and eats his regular breakfast. He is like rare foliage whose roots have not yet secured themselves entirely in the soil of London but are still lodged, mainly, in the mud of Isis and Cherwell.

Patrick’s girlfriend Clarissa has come to sit for her portrait. Poodle-like, she poses in the dark studio, whose huge round topped window gives onto the assembled plane trees outside.


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