In a short period, only a few days, I am solicited over and over by possibilities of still life. Sue offers many examples: books, embroidery, wine bottles, old cameras, artfully posed. DesleyJane arranges her subjects for RegularRandom with great artistry. Paula and Suzanne transform pears and celery. All these temptations come from the blogosphere, but I know I don’t have the knack of casual arrangement that still life requires.
Then my writing companion comes out of left-field with an invitation to attempt still-life in words. She sends me a link to Wikipedia on still life. On a wildly windy Sunday morning I read it avidly, and begin to see potential. Portraits of my aunts through inherited objects. The celebration of a season. A slice of life in words. Contrasts, maybe bleakness and plenitude. I make a list of still life artists and still life ideas to pursue.
And then I raise my eyes from the iPad and see my first subject in front of me.
They lie there on the black and white geometry of the carpet, a carpet bought to please the eye and encourage it to take the mind rambling in evening cogitations. About philosophy. Wire gates. Solar-powered washing machines. Poetry. The nature of the mind.
The jumble of clothes gives no hint about the mental life of their owner. The red track suit pants are worn thin. Those round shapes are holes. They are comfort clothes, strictly in-house. Their use-softened fabric wrinkles and folds, catching shadows in its creases. A pseudo-leather belt coils out from under them, a snake to the idle unfocused eye. Behind them is a scrunched up black waffle-pattern undershirt, discarded once the day warms up, and black rumpled work trousers. They offer protection against march flies, nettles and sunburn when the man works amongst his corn and chillies and tomatoes and herbs in the wire-netted dome-garden visible through the window. The sketches lie, one on its side – the one with the green splotches of deck paint – the other one pointing a dance-step away from its mate. This is a composition in basic black and white and red, with just a small accent of green.
I’m a woman of excess. Once I’ve spotted one subject my eye is attuned. The man is not only a gardener but a caterer. He brings me my breakfast fry up. And lo, another still life.
Out of the old cast-iron frypan, handle long since gone; from the old fuel stove, oven and hot water tank long since gone, comes Sunday morning breakfast. The host places it on the black and white geometry of the carpet, so I can appreciate its contrasting circularity before any attempt is made to desecrate it by mastication. The old silver knife and fork are angled perfectly and begin the theme of gleam. They don’t match – nothing in this house does – but they have history. The plate is simple white china with two maroon rings marking its rim. A few minute pieces of onion loiter away from the main meal. The food is arranged to show off its components, and topped by a glisten, a gleam, a sparkle, a blink, a coruscation, a scintilla of olive oil. The egg is neat, shaped by a teflon egg ring, the yolk bright yellow and off centre, the white crinkled brown around the very edge. The potato slices are elongated oval and well-browned, interspersed with glossy half rings of onion. The small tomatoes, picked five minutes ago from the garden, have collapsed into a bright splotch of red.