Reflection of Time
Through the freshly opened window I see the mist wafting off the cold river, down there, beyond the azaleas. Its cold seeps up the frosty lawn which no early bird has yet visited. They’re still snug in their nests.
Silence. No bird song, no cars. Just the gentle murmur of moving water and the drip of dew off the gutters.
Tiny diamonds of mist animate into a slow waltz of mercury trails. They accelerate as I open the window wider. The lifting gloom of a crisp spring morning promises warmth once the sun sheds its shawl of mist.
With the light on the walls where paintings once hung I’ll uncover the reflections that one man made of light and life.
Without light, my dear, there is no form. Just feel. What is the point of feeling if your eyes cannot see the shifting reality that light brings to our world. This is what the old farts at the Academy couldn’t understand. Pompous men in suits and hats who wanted to keep their reality in irons. They felt safer that way.
I left them alone, most times. Occasionally I threw some light their way. But they shied away from what they felt was a threat to their order of things.
You see, light ever changes our view of things. Try catching a shaft of light in a dusty room, or wipe a peephole through a gloomy window, and the view changes. Shades of colour and their shadows, etched out in a form, but for a moment. Move your feet and the picture has changed. New angles, new light, different perspective.
I tried, as you see here in this painting of the river, to tell you the time of day, the season, the breeze o n the water, the later afternoon perfumes. But it’s fleeting. The picture changed before my first brushstroke – and the day was different before the paint dried.
People of your time have it differently. Cameras, I believe, snatch and freeze a moment they’re too rushed to savour. Essence escapes such frozen moments. They flash it and promise to reflect. They seldom do – or if they do, can’t recall the inspiration of that moment. You may have caught a snatch of time, but the photograph lacks the feeling of the wind and the warmth of the sun, the smell of the sea, and the sound of a bird flying by. These are pictures – not reflections.
Eventually, just before I died, the men in suits and hats, opened their minds to what I was showing them. There’s some satisfaction in knowing that they finally saw the light. Before the shadows that defined the image bothered the backs of the minds.
While I painted and chased sunbeams we had a good life out here, where the nuances of each season perfumed the air, were felt underfoot. We felt time passing as the air passed over our skin. Only to be confirmed by the ticking of the clock.
Midday lunch was a bounty of the seasons. Jugs of wine from down the road, vegetables from our patch by the river. Monique made splendid chicken pies and, if I extended myself, poached trout caught from the river. I must tell you that the smell of baking bread is a great distraction to a painter of my appetites.
You see, my dear, in these paintings against my sunshine wall, I lived my life in search of the light other men didn’t know was there.
He vanished as the sun topped the willow tree. Was his voice in my head? His reflections seemed so tangible. But were they my imaginings grounded in scholarly tomes and reference guides. Had his spirit refused to leave this place, presuming heaven to be too bright and crowded and complacent compared with his space on earth.
I walk through the lightening rooms, touching rustic furniture and favourite objects of 150 years ago. Blue and white crockery. A striped jug that once held summer posies. An impression of the life he lived – composed from objects, memories, knowledge and imaginings.
He’s still here. Watching me. Willing me to absorb some of his spirit. The spirit that refuses to go to heaven where it’ll be wasted on the comfortable dead. Is he waiting to see if, by the end of my day’s wandering, I will begin to really know what he tried to show us.
There’s a whiff of pipe tobacco. And linseed oil – from his smock or the furniture warming up in the weak sunlight.
Just a fleeting imagining of a big man. Ever watchful.