Notes on a postcard

On the back of the postcard it just says: Portrait of an unknown model, circa 1918. Manchester Art Gallery. So it’s 100 years old. And yet it looks so contemporary (at least to my eyes…). It looks (a bit) like someone I know: the hair, the fringe, the lipstick. (Maybe SHE’s old-fashioned…?) It’s Modigliani, and he was dead at 35.
I don’t read art criticism – it seems totally irrelevant to me. What people never say (and you can’t say in front of a Damien Hirst, for instance) is how attractive people look. That’s the main thing for me: attractive (not necessarily pretty) pictures of women and men. It’s not about accuracy (photo-realism always seemed a blind alley; why not just blow up the photo?); Modigliani’s hardly that – everyone looks more-or-less the same: elongated face, blank eyes, those crazily sloping shoulders… But it’s – somehow – very, very sexy, in a totally timeless way. The same way Botticelli is, or Rembrandt…
What’s also interesting about this postcard is the fact that I had no idea I had it. I must have bought it in late summer 2006, the only day I went to Manchester this century, on a day trip from a rainy holiday in Marsden, Yorkshire. It was the first (and only) time I’d seen the post-Arndale, post-IRA bomb redevelopment – and it was depressing. My sister had been at Manchester University 1980-83 (ah, the bands…) and it was great – and a bit scary. But now? Lots and lots of upmarket chain shops, including a Harvey Nichols, which we went to. (Just like London…)
It was raining (of course) and we went to the art gallery. There were children’s activities, which I spent a lot of time on, my (then) 2 sons being 5 and 3. A long, long sheet of paper (probably lining paper) had to be decorated with felt pens, I don’t remember on what pretext. And tho that kind of thing drove me mad when we went to London and the Geffrye Museum (a £25 train fare – for something we could do just as well in Colchester…), it was fun here. We were on holiday and it was raining… What else were we going to do (if not Harvey Nicks…)?
We must have looked in at the museum shop (always an inevitability with the children; just the shop would do nicely – the paintings they didn’t really get…). And this postcard caught my eye (who knows? Deep down in my unconscious, maybe because it reminded me of you…?) I brought it home and stuck it in the postcard box, to which I occasionally resorted when it was someone’s birthday and I didn’t have a card.
Modigliani played a big role in my ‘artistic’ (read sexual) development. When I was about 13, I bought a poster from the Courtauld Institute, then in Bloomsbury, where the industrial lift, the brown hessian walls and the 3rd-floor setting gave it a ‘flat of a wealthy uncle’ atmosphere. The poster showed my then-favourite painting/pin-up. A Modigliani nude. To have stuck up a page 3 girl in my bedroom would have attracted disbelief and disgust. But to put up a poster from the Courtauld – that was artistic…
I liked art at school, but had to give it up at 13. I wasn’t ‘streamed’ for art – or, oddly, for biology. That’s a battle, too. I had a stroke and – brain-damaged – struggle to make head or tail of what doctors tell me. I have to take someone with me and write it all – laboriously – down. My ‘first-class’ education seems increasingly bizarre compared with what my children do. They study Biology GCSE – tick. Art GCSE (optional) – tick. Music GCSE (optional) – tick… At MY school, the prevailing thinking was: if you’re going to do the A Level, why bother with the O Level? So I JUST did A Level History (at 16…) My best friend – who was the son of a doctor and always wanted to follow in his footsteps, and who was only a month older than me – skipped Biology O Level and just did the A… Only to be told that he HAD to have Biology O Level if he wanted to study Medicine at Cambridge. So after leaving school, he had to go to a crammer and take the O Level…
And the postcard remained in the box from 2006 till now…



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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

One thought on “Notes on a postcard”

  1. John – Please publish the postcard pic. Can you scan it in?

    You say “it reminded me of you…..” who is “you”

    Certainly not me! I am fat man not a thin woman!


    P x



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