I told a true story yesterday, with a name change, of course! It was about a girl who visited an outdoor art exhibition when she was sixteen, and saw a painting of silver birch trees in autumn, painted by a young man a few years older than her, who reminded her of Steve McQueen. She couldn’t afford to buy the painting, but she never forgot it. Many, many years later, after a moving away from the town and then returning, she saw that the same man, who I called Tim Stewart, now had an exhibition on display.
The exhibition was in town in some rooms above of all places, an undertaker’s premises; the girl, now a woman, and her husband decided to go and see the work. As they climbed the stairs there were pictures on either side of them, some abstract and brightly coloured, but they were too close to be able to be appreciated properly. There were some landscapes and views of buildings in the town, and also some paintings by a woman – more town and landscapes, and a picture of a cat dozing in a window.
On the small landing were more paintings by the woman and a few by Tim Stewart; there was a small room at the front of the property and within it was the main exhibition, and what had been described as an installation. The subject of the paintings in this room was the Battle of Waterloo, and there were portraits of the main participants, battle scenes, and paintings of groups of soldiers. In the middle of the small room was a gazebo, an ordinary garden gazebo, a table with a few random artefacts and two lights,one red and one green which flashed intermittently on the paintings.
Sitting in what looked like a garden chair was a grey-haired, bearded man, who proved to be Tim Stewart himself… who no longer looked anything like Steve McQueen. He was friendly and explained that he had always been fascinated by Waterloo, Napoleon, Wellington… and Nelson, who of course had died fifteen years before Waterloo.
The woman and her husband looked round all the paintings, including some which were in a tiny kitchen just off the landing; there were none which particularly appealed although it was interesting to see the artists’ work. They said cheerio and left Tim Stewart in his garden chair next to the gazebo, and they went down the stairs and out into the lovely summer’s day.
The woman had thought she might mention to Tim Stewart that she had very much admired his painting of silver birches in the autumn sun so many years ago… but she didn’t.