I had begun to find another way to paint and draw around the age of nine at middle school. After the early years of being taught to knit, sew and weave by my mother, hand embroidery at primary school, so many jumbo colouring in books with wax crayons and endless packets of felt tipped pens, cheap water colour pots – a new era was upon me – proper art classes.
I loved the smells of the art and craft room. There was everything in there, absolutely everything. I feared the space too. It filled me with this daunting feeling – what had we come to do in this magnificent workshop stinking of wet clay, swarfega, powders, wood and pva glue.
The teacher was young. She had her work cut out with us lot. If you weren’t hard, you pretended to be – or practised the art of strange. I did the latter. I was eerily quiet, precocious was a favourite word for me and I knew how to throw really dirty looks and be pretty darned weird. But my art teacher seemed to like me. She encouraged me always in my work.
I enjoyed drawing, painting, pastels and blowing the fixing fluid on to the paper, occasionally inhaling. Glue – everyone loved the pva glue. We watered it down for papier mache bowels and masks and painted our hands with it so we could peel it off during the boring talking parts of art class.
Then it all got a little bit harder one year. We were marched over to the vices, given blocks of wood, told to carve something and to make a jack-in-the-box. I tightened up inside. I knew I couldn’t even bang a nail in to a plank of wood in our cellar workshop at home, this was going to be a term of living hell.
As we worked on the two projects, one alone and the jack-in-the-box as a pair, I fell further and further behind. The block of wood was to be an otter. Week on week I chiseled at it, gripped in a vice like the block of wood, except mine was one of terror. How the hell was this going to turn in to an otter.
We worked on the box and clown, which came together quite nicely. My partner made the box, and I the puppet, This was a safe artform for me – textiles. But the otter….going nowhere.
The term came to an end and the teacher asked us all to present our work as a class. She walked around the work stations, commenting, admiring, critting. I can’t remember her name, but I can recall her angry voice on that day. It stuck with me for a long time.
After inspecting all our work, I thought I had gotten off lightly. Why had she not asked me why my otter had not revealed itself. What came next crushed all my love of making art for the next three years. She stood in the middle of the room and had a right go at me in front of everyone. Her anger astonished me. She expressed her disappointment in my not finishing the task and at the same time pointed out all the ‘great pieces of art’ I had done over the months that she had put up around her room. I had talent, she said, I was good, she said. But this time, I was really lazy. She was shouting, really shouting.
And I turned inside from being scared and worried to thinking fuck you, fuck you to hell and back.
She asked me if I had anything to say. I glowered at her, my face flushed. I could have cried, but I didn’t. I stood silently, absolutely refusing to speak. She backed off.
We remained unfriends for the rest of my time with her. I refused to speak to her. She never apologised.
Although I carried on with art at grammar school, I didn’t fall back in love with making til I was sixteen. Then, a new era began.