Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Is Robert Elesco?

by Anonymous (i.e. not by DF Lewis)

“Don’t argue with me, that’s a Titian.” The rampant child carer sent her rays of wisdom over the child, hoping that they would warm its heart enough to make a sensible comment about the golden section or the mathematics surrounding the masterpieces on view.

Nothing but silence greeted the girl who was too engrossed in the painting to notice that her little chum was flicking his space ship up into the air, only allowed along to keep him company, not to participate in lessons. He made it fly across the room in the general direction of the alcoves full of baroque amusements, seething with day trippers intent on enlightenment, except that they had no intention to go everywhere they wished. They were too lazy for that effort. Instead they took solace with the Titians and left the other wandering much to their mind’s eye.

She had washed up looking after this child for a friend and relied wholly on her patience to see her through rooms and rooms containing treasures that would encompass the great reference points heralding artistic development.

“Come here,” she shouted, beginning to get a little tipsy with exasperation.

“Come over here now!” The child didn’t acknowledge her but everyone else did as they were told, turning round on their haunches to view this new exhibit, this time a living installation.

The space captain bombed down the corridor out of sight, leaving his poor caretaker friend to get on with her bewildering act which ended up unapplauded and most of all unappreciated.

“You’ll be amazed with what he can come up with,” the boy’s mother told her expecting a favourable impression, “he tells me things that go way above my head.”

“Not anymore,” she thought.

He was determined to be as obstructive as possible when she told him that the gallery was today’s treat. The brat was entrusted with a determination to play her up right from morn until this moment in late afternoon, which meant an unsatisfactory arrangement tearing around the place without any debate over the slew of golden oldies from the baroque school.

There was nothing wrong with the painting she was looking at, just the fact that the man’s elbow was half way out of the picture. She was almost sure, that the man wanted to nudge her for a prank, a wilful episode in a very serious situation. She also noticed seemingly little room for mirth in this man’s life, but yet the outward bound elbow would suggest otherwise – like a bit of a wisecrack left in when applying the last brush strokes.

On the way up to this portrait she heard scholarly conversations summoned up by the art apprentices, arch students, some still hazy from excessive drinking away the night before; sprinkling curators leaving words like “painterly” singing in the ears, even after such a long while eyeing up the more classical daubs.

Hurrying down the corridors, the errant boy carried his rocket nestled under his cardigan, stalking his own imagination derived from far off space wars, while displaying how flight could be achieved under the thumb and forefinger clasped tightly around a spindly plastic tube.

“Hey, there young man, who might you be?” It was a Brummie accent, probably a tourist. The boy noticed that his beard was thickly set on a middle aged profile which seemed quite penetrating when one focused on it completely.

“The man tried to grab me,” the youngster yelled.

“Which man?” the adult requested.

“The painting man,”, began the infant. “His arms got stuck and he wants to get out; he told me.”

“Not on my watch”, laughed the old man, “but I know who you are talking about –'The Man with a Blue Sleeve'. "

“Yes. That’s him.”

It was clear that the child hadn’t noticed beforehand that this particular person had a red nose on display which was perched right inside his leather carry bag. As the child went to grab it, the man’s hand intercepted its carriage.

“You know that’s my nose.” The man was becoming plaintive. “Keep those little mittens away from my stuff will you? That’s my box of tricks.”

The boy began his inevitable enquiry, “When do you use that thing?”

“I plonk it on and then march up and down in a silly fashion, just like this.”

He demonstrated with determined gusto shoving his snout up so that it seemed he was balancing a bauble on his nose bridge. Whatever one believed about this man, he seemed quite distinct from the surrounding emporium he’d created – not a realistic probability. He never smiled once during the whole charade. The child watched his feet sweeping along the floor and imagined as if they were detached from his body, a bit like the elbow from the picture.

“I’m a professional clown and that’s all you need to know about me sonny.” He guffawed twice just to make it clear who he was.

“You’re a wicked man, that’s what you are,” the boy retorted. “You’re not good enough to be a clown. Don’t they have make-up or something like that?”

The Brummie carried on his speech regardless with raised eyebrows: “No make-up for me when I’m not on the job - why you must have heard of me? I’m known as the great Robert Elesco, clown extraordinaire. I can whistle as well as sing for my supper.” Oh dear, and he even bowed just to deepen the authenticity, twisting his jowls in an effort to prove he could pull a funny face. “I’ve also seen proper fairies and can talk in fairy language; I’ll teach you if you wish.” He whispered this particular secret as an aside just in case his audience should doubt him even at this point.

But his eyes did not match the description. It was as if these were lines he had learned in a play or he was reeling off catch phrases that had reached past their peak time.

“Well, I’ve never heard or seen of you. My Nan doesn’t like clowns neither!” The child was now becoming visibly angry and its cheeks puffed out from the harassment this silly man was causing, almost making him cry.

“Make sure you tell your mother about me young man and I will give her a free ticket to my show!” he shouted.

But the child had already sped off, gone as fast as his shoes would carry him, trembling lips, quite frightened and greatly flustered: there was not the remotest chance this man had been a clown or would ever wear the blue smock espied in the carry bag under the joke nose. The boy wondered what happened to the real deal – a preoccupation which would take him from now until he reached his awaiting guardian. He definitely knew this man was not who he said he was.

“I’ve seen the man in the painting!” he gasped while grabbing at her hand's iron-clasped grip.

“So what do you think?” she asked with renewed enthusiasm. She had obviously got over her initial shock and embarrassment, remembering that she was supposed to be looking after the boy as requested by her friend.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Art Gallery

(written today and first published here)

Robert Elesco had been stationed in the Gallery – just around the corner from the city’s White Chapel – and, as if he were one of the wardens who usually sit in the corner of each room to guard the paintings, he now watched the desultory groups of art-goers as they came and went. It was a Show loosely depicting clowns and circuses through the ages. Robert had been hired for the day complete with his clown outfit to wander from room to room – thus to grant some Big Top atmosphere to proceedings. However, he was tired and had filched a warden’s chair so as to give his legs a rest. Toulouse-Lautrec faced him and he studied the original painting as if it were the painter himself. He held imaginary conversations with him – only rarely interrupted by a new supply of art-goers in ones and twos who wandered through having wondered why Robert was tucked away in this room instead of greeting people at the main door. His baggy white tunic’s black rosettes and even his red nose sunk back into the shadows.

But then came three visitors who stayed longer than welcome – at least from Robert’s point of view. These visitors evidently didn’t know each other, having arrived in this part of the Gallery by chance. They stared singly at each painting, returning time and time again to one particular painting which Robert couldn’t see from where he was sitting in the gloom. He hadn’t bothered to inspect each painting in the room before deciding to plump down in the fortuitously vacant chair. He had not even wondered to where the room’s warden had vanished. They were supposed to relieve each other. He didn’t get on with the wardens. They probably thought that Robert’s role was a waste of time. A mere gimmick, bringing the show into tacky disgrace.

He turned his attention to the three art-sticklers in the room. He took unconscious pride in fathoming people by just looking at them. Indeed, unknown to himself, he had a tiny creature inside - separate from his brain but seeing through his eyes. This creature could dig deeper and more seriously into reality than the outward slapstick of Robert’s job as a clown could ever otherwise promise to deliver.

One was Julius Barton (Digger) aged 41, Civil Servant, lover of Oscar Wilde’s wit, obsessed with tidiness, lover of Amateur Dramatics – who said “Mmm, Nice” as he approached each painting. The second was Ella Solomon, age 46, unemployed, with a West Country accent even before she spoke aloud ... but she did say something eventually with a “I’m sooooo tired!” to herself. The third was Daisy Winters, age 27, Administrator at a 6th Form College, someone who complained a lot, cynical about love or romance, and said, for no apparent reason, into the empty air : “I have never been drunk.” She had, by saying this, merely spoken aloud the title on one of the labels next to a painting depicting a clown who was apparently the only sober person centrally among many ordinarily dressed people who were riotously drunk. The clown, acting clownishly, also appeared drunk, but was acting the part of being drunk. One would need a lot of empathy to gather exactly the moral of the painting or its wider interpretation. For example, was the clown drunk, and were the others acting drunk?

Taken up by these hidden considerations, Robert and even his inner creature had forgotten to continue fathoming the characters of the three visitors to the room, visitors who now seemed to have pitched their metaphorical tents for the duration, not one of them yet, however, communicating with the others, let alone with Robert himself. They did gradually and more consistently gravitate towards one particular painting that Robert could now see in his mind’s eye even if he could not see it for real from where he sat. He pictured a portrait of himself sitting in the corner of the room. A poignant image of a sad clown or jester. But why did the three visitors not therefore visibly compare the painting to his presence in the corner. Surely they had spotted the resemblance and marvelled at the coincidence. He felt their gaze penetrate his baggy costume even as far as the distinguishing marks of his sunken chest and strawberry birthmark on his back. It was as if the painting was him and he was otherwise nowhere to be seen. He was urged to get up and start clowning about. Unlike most clowns, Robert could perform alone, so it would not be difficult to ad lib within the rarefied space he inhabited. After all, that was what he was being paid for – to give an atmosphere of the circus and its clowns.

But why should he? These were chance, unconnected visitors, each with their own agenda, each with their separate paths to the Gallery and, later, away from it. He could tell at least that from their very chance names, their chance jobs, and their chance ill-chosen words. Let them make what they could of the unmakeable. Of the unremarkable.

He’d give them no pleasure of synchronicity or serendipity. That wasn’t his job. He was there merely as a clown in a vacuum jar. Or just another frozen exhibit on the wall. But it was wishful thinking to imagine that he had no role to play other than simply to be there.

He saw sinewy tendrils winding slowly in the air between the three visitors, a communication system of which they were evidently unaware. But which of them would break the silence first and to whom and why? The question remained in the air as they finally struck camp and left the Gallery almost together for the outside world.

The chair’s warden now returned to the room and gave Robert a piece of his mind - to get going, circulate, make a brouhaha of welcome, get out on the street, rustle up a few more paying customers for the Gallery... A clown among disguised clowns.

Not to be rushed, Robert sluggishly left the chair to its rightful owner and, before finally leaving the room, he walked over (his eyes custard-pying the inward tears of curdled sleep) to discover half-heartedly what painting the three visitors had earlier gravitated towards. It was a meticulously detailed painting of a tiny prematurely dead foetal creature of inner as well as outer ugliness that the vague background shape of a huge circus beast had painfully jettisoned rather than deliver it alive to the captivity of the outside world.

The character of Robert Elesco was first 'built' here: