Charles Williams

The Lost Paintings of Herzog Dellafiore

Begins transcription

It's not on is it? 

It's on. What…what do I…oh, there? I press that?…I never met the guy. Oh yes, yes I did, I did meet him. Yes. A couple of times I met him. I went to that place in Soho, that…The French. Blacks. No, The Colony Room Club. Yes, the Colony Club. Joe took me there. We went to the Groucho as well. That was amazing, I saw…I saw that guy, that film guy, that guy. Oh shit what was his name. He's in things. Hugh. Hugh Laurie. You know, in the thing about, you know, it had just come out. Four Weddings and a Funeral. Shit.

I hated Joe's funeral. There were just so few of us, in that cold place, the crematorium in Fulham. No, the other side. Christ it was bleak. Minna didn't come, his Dad couldn't come. Actually, his Dad was dead by then. Just me and Matt and Stan and Spike. A couple of others. Was Dan there? Yes, he was but he didn't come to the pub after did he?

Not Hugh Laurie. Hugh Grant. Impossibly short. But we went to the Colony first and that's where I met Herzog the first time. Ugly bloke. 

Well, he was. I am sorry, but he was. And he was on the verge, all the time, of throwing a wobbly. At least that's how it seemed to me. Joe introduced me, and he kind of looked at me and then away, he didn't say anything at all. I think he asked someone, I think it was Dan, later who I was, because I was talking to Tilda Swinton, and she was sort of leaning in quite a bit, and I think I heard him say ‘who is that Royal Academy wanker talking to Tilda, again?' 

I don't know what Dan said, I didn't really know him then. They certainly had a good laugh. But I was quite interested in Tilda Swinton. She is very attractive. Joe seemed to know her quite well, but he might have just been selling her…stuff. You know. 

Anyway, Its funny, because it turns out that Dan actually met Alex Koolman when he was in Italy with Herzog. I've been hearing about Koolman for years and I never met him. Odd stories about his behaviour, his abilities. There was nothing particular about him, I liked his paintings I suppose, but you could never get anyone to tell you much more than these anecdotes. A friend of mine, for example, she's dead now too, Christ. 

She told me that she'd taught at the same place and that the Principal was a portrait painter, or rather, was painting these portraits in his studio. You got a studio if you were a Principal or a permanent lecturer in those days, can you imagine? I'll just go and do some painting, you carry on…Bloody hell. Anyway, he had a studio on the same corridor as my friend taught, and she'd hear him in there, painting his portraits. Then he'd leave and she'd peek in and they would be on the easel, a portrait but with no eyes. Then half an hour later, Alex Koolman would come down the corridor, and go in the studio, turn the key in the lock. A half-hour later the key would turn and he'd walk back up the corridor. And on the easel, the painting would have eyes. 

Great story! I love that story. I really wanted to meet the guy, but I never did. He died, I found out. He died about ten years ago. He must have been quite old. 

Twenty years later, Dan asks me to do this thing for him. It's an exhibition, he says, and I want to show these paintings, these six paintings that Dellafiore had made in the late nineties, holed up in Macerata. With Koolman! Amazing. But he'd lost them. I said, what do you mean, you've lost them, and he was like no, Herzog lost them, and he told me this story. I was flummoxed, to be honest. Why had he thrown them away in the first place? But yeah, that's it, isn't it? He had a volcanic temper. He would do anything that occurred to him in the moment. And then dash down and find them gone. Wanker. 

It's like X Trapnel in Dance to the Music of Time, isn't it? Only instead of Pamela throwing away his masterpiece, the wanker did it himself. I love that book. 

So, Dan says, would you be able to paint them?

What the actual fuck? 

But then I thought, why the hell not? Dan has a pretty good visual memory and he was able to describe each one quite minutely. So I thought, why not? I asked how big they were and he went like that with his arms. About so big. Okay. 

Ends transcription

My Method

My father suffered badly from migraines. As a child, resting on my bed reading, I would hear the front door bang open now and again in the afternoon, and my father would come shuffling in. I would walk to the stairwell and look down to see his bent form, his eyes screwed up behind his glasses, Marianne taking his overcoat and briefcase as he staggered towards the stairs to his bed. We children would all be told to keep deathly quiet. Not a noise must reach the darkened room. Poor man.

I begin the process in the early morning just before dawn, rising immediately upon waking, dress and go downstairs to drink a glass of warm water and then walk through the gently lightening dawn across the fields behind the house. My wife is still asleep. The dogs, too, but they bark softly, look up blearily and then re-settle. I don't bang the door shut. As my boots and trousers become soaked with dew, and I reach the edge of the first field, I am beginning to find Herzog, somewhere in my mind. 

The woods are dark, and the dawn chorus is almost deafening. It's cold in rural Kent these Autumn mornings, and I swing quickly through the woods. I carry on down the path into the scrubby area between the woods and the sea-shore. One morning as I strode out of the woods, my eyes on the ground in this meditative state – it is a mile from one side of the wood to the other – a soft voice inside made me look up, and there in the meadow grass, staring back at me, were three deer, two does and a stag, grey in the dawn light. I smiled and they didn't move, just watched me. Animals sense that special state, I suppose they know it themselves. Creatures of the earth and skies are well-used to the fourth dimension. 

My method, and it is all in Ouspenky's book ‘In Search of the Miraculous' so it's no secret, is to visualise the enneagram, in all its careful points, to find and hold this image, and to sing over the octaves, as I walk. I must at one and the same time be utterly aware of myself and my surroundings and yet my mind's eye utterly focussed on the enneagram, an image that hovers before my third eye, all while humming over the octaves. It takes huge concentration, and I match the octaves to the pace of my marching feet, and the image itself sometimes throbs in time too, until by the end of the second hour of my walking and waking I reach the sea-shore, sink down on the pebbles, and look up to the heavens and release it all, and there, in that shocking moment, I can achieve what I call Total Recall, a state in which it is possible to remember everything that has happened to me in perfect detail, as if re-living it. 

I learnt this technique many years ago when I attended a course at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in New York. I was very young then, and passionately interested in what one might describe as ‘the potentialities of the human being'. An old man called Professor Levi led us through a series of exercises in order to develop what he called ‘a strong mind', and the enneagram was the main focus of the practice. We, a small and actually, as the month dragged on, rather dwindling group, also had to preform various physical tasks. I am not sure now quite what the point of some of them was. I was reminded of that part of the course when I eventually entered Art College, and we were set similarly incomprehensible tasks. Draw without looking, or only use your left hand. 

It is, at any rate, at this stage that I try to find the image that Daniel has given me, and then to reach into his consciousness and try to find the very picture itself. I feel its surface, its colour, its ineffable form with the outstretched fingers of my mind's self as it sits in his memories, I make it somehow again. It comes to a completeness. 

I often pass out at the point when the picture becomes most clear to me. By this time there may be holiday makers, staking out their little spots on the beach, disrobing awkwardly beneath shy towels, and paddling their bare white and orange feet in the surf. Kent is close to London and the most extraordinary menagerie of city folk sometimes appear. I remember once opening my eyes to see a whole family of Russians gathered round me, the father with his crudely shaven face, his blowsy wife, and four bullet-headed children, all wide-eyed and palely naked in their swimsuits, staring at me as if looking down a well. Luckily I have enough Russian to understand what they were saying and told them quickly that if they did try their plan of  taking my possessions before calling an ambulance, my son would see them and report them to the police. Then where would they be? Back in Tomsk. Or Siberia. 

Gervase, my oldest, always knows to come and collect me in the Vauxhall three hours precisely after I have left. He knows not to speak, and we drive together in silence to the house, while I concentrate on my recollection. I walk straight to the studio and pick up my brushes, pausing in the painting process only long enough to sip from a cup of peppermint tea and take bites from my breakfast sandwich. Anna, my wife, is solicitous of my health to a fault, and makes them from  sourdough-bread  and lightly grilled vegetables, all of which we make and grow ourselves. I need to be sustained through my labours. She leaves them at the door of the studio, knocking lightly before returning to the house. 

I don't remember much of the actual painting of the pictures. There is an image that shimmers before my ‘third eye', I know that much, and my hands and arms seem to do the work unbidden. By lunchtime I am often exhausted. Sometimes I have a headache so strong that I cannot stand. But there, on the great studio easel, is the vision formed in my mind. 

I can't keep this up, of course. It takes a terrible toll on my psyche. To reach across to other people's consciousnesses, invading their minds I suppose you might call it, is, in truth, a violent act. The visualisation pulses into my head like a migraine, and my father's form comes back to me, his brown tweed suit crumpled, his face dark and strained with the pain. What have I done? What have I done to myself? 

So I must work in short, intense bursts of energy, try to get it all out as quickly as possible. Sometimes I am in the studio until darkness falls; Anna opens the door softly and brings a candle, and then, when I have had another sandwich and grown used to the extra light, turns on the lamps, and then I work and work, until it is light again. if I can only make the image real, then I can let it go. If I try to hold it in my head, who knows, it may fade, or I may fade. My task is to relieve myself of the burden and then I may sleep. 

In the end of course, they are all made. Oh the release! No more am I plagued with these nagging images thrust upon me by this outlandish necessity. How I have cursed Daniel for imposing this task on me, in the long dark nights of my struggle, but now as I look over at the paintings, ranged along the studio wall beside the warm stove as it glows in the Autumn evening, I chuckle to myself. ‘Good old Dan', I say to Anna, who sits quietly by my side sipping this excellent Shiraz, ‘he knew I could do it'. She smiles and assents. ‘Dear Daniel' she murmurs and reaches across to stroke my forehead. ‘Dear Charles'. The love of a good woman is so important to the truly creative man.

©2021 Charles Williams
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