Writing About Art

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

5th June 2015
A SMALL black dot in the distance, indistinct at first, caught her eye as it moved on the horizon.
She was sitting on the rocks. Her summer dress billowing in the fresh breeze. An expanse of white sand stretching out in front of her.
The tide was far out in the estuary. It's expanse twinkling all the way out to the wide open blue ocean which stretched as far as the eye could see.
Curiosity got the better of Rona Murray. She jumped down from her seat on the rocks, and headed towards the object, her long, curly, red hair, blowing in the breeze behind her.
The object seemed to be picking up speed again, bumping over the ruts formed by the long-since retreated tide and dried by the glaring sun and battering wind.
Soon it became clear it was a green party balloon, a strange, unexpected sight on a deserted expanse of beach.
Rona noticed something attached, flapping from the back of it,
a beige luggage label tied to the part-deflated balloon, flittering like a butterfly in the wind as it reached her feet.
Bending down to pick it up, Rona untied the note, and set the balloon free, watching it pick up height and rise into the sky, heading north.
Rona watched the balloon for as long as she could until she could no longer distinguish it against the blue sky.
She turned her attention to examining the note.
On one side of the weathered, slightly-torn, label, was written the words: "June 5, 2013. Whoever finds this balloon, has won a grand prize. Return this note with your name, and address to the sender, and collect what is rightfully yours."
On the other side was a painted portrait of a lady, an older lady, probably in her sixties, Rona thought.
She tucked the note into a pocket in her dress, and set off across the beach towards the high dunes, to start her journey home.

Seven days later Rona Murray was sitting in the older lady's house.
She was at the address which had been written on the back of the balloon.
It was an old stone cottage, up a narrow street, right in the heart of the village, yet strangely calm and quiet.
Inside there was barely enough room, for one person to live. What little space there was was an artist’s studio.
Portraits of all shapes and sizes in varying degrees of progress lay around the room, some seemingly finished, others hardly started.
Fascinated to be in such a place, the like of which she'd never set foot inside before, Rona’s eyes scanned around the room. She wanted to soak it all in, catch every detail.
She noticed certificates on the wall for portrait shows and society commendations, all with historic seals and signatures, from institutes around Europe. London, Stockholm, Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague and Delft, just some of the cities mentioned.
She also noticed the same name on them all, written invariably in large letters, Arabella Zedel. The same name that appeared on the balloon label. The same lady now painting her portrait.
With her slightly greying black hair, and vibrant blue eyes, it was clear to Rona, Arabella would have been a stunningly, beautiful young woman. Even now, she had a grace, and elegance about her.
“Tell me about your life in five minutes,” said Arabella. “What’s important to you, who is important to you, what have been the major milestones in your life?”
Rona Murray was 22. She wasn’t sure there was enough to fill five minutes. But no sooner had she opened her mouth than she wondered if she would ever be able to stop.
“Her parents were dead,” Rona always wanted to get that out of the way first, upfront, hiding her emotions as she said it, so she could avoid difficult questions later on.
“A car crash. Three years ago. I was at university in Edinburgh at the time.”
Rona moved on quickly. To dwell, would be to risk tears. And she didn’t know Arabella well enough yet to reveal her frailties.
“I love my boyfriend, Fraser, a trainee solicitor by day, a guitarist with a band by night, and a talented rugby player, future Scotland international, at the weekends.
“He lives in Edinburgh and we travel to each other’s every other weekend. It’s fun.
“I love my dog, Ruby the fox terrier. I love my red soft top classic MG car. And I love where I live, a barn conversion I inherited from my parents at Green Quarter half way up the Kentmere valley looking straight out to the expanse of the Kentmere Horseshoe, with only hens and Herdwicks for neighbours.
“I love playing my music full blast on a summer’s evening, and dancing around by living room, singing my heart out, with that amazing amphitheatre of a backdrop, and no-one to disturb. I am very lucky.”
Rona might well have gone on, if Arabella had not interrupted.
“And what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a trainee journalist,” replied Rona. “On the local paper.”
“Will you write about this?” asked Arabella.
“Maybe. One day. But not for the paper. This is ‘me’ time. Time to relax and enjoy the experience.”
“What do you know about art?” asked Arabella.
“Not a lot,” said Rona. “I always go to art galleries and museums when I visit a new city. I find it anchors me in the culture of where I am. Helps my feet touch the ground in a place. But I’m no expert.”
“We can change that my dear,” replied Arabella, and at that moment set down her brush. “Let’s have a 15-minute break,” she said. “Let’s get some fresh air.”
No sooner had they walked out of Arabella's back door, and turned through a tiny gap in a stone wall, than they were in a beautiful woodland. Being early June the bluebells were past their best. But their scent still hung in the air.
Arabella encouraged Rona to stop in the middle of the path and take in all her surroundings in all their glory. Not just walk past with a passing glance to nature, but immerse herself in it.
She told her the secrets of art, the secrets of writing, were in the details.
She invited her to look at the different shades of green and blues until the very colours were burned onto her retina, to breathe in the bluebell scent until it almost punctured her lungs, to listen to the babbling stream with such intensity that its crescendo almost burst her ear drums, and to close her eyes and put the wild garlic on her tongue, until it tingled so much she thought her mouth was going to explode.
With sensations this raw, this vibrant, Rona suddenly felt she was living twice, everything, all of nature amplified to bursting.
On their way back to the studio, Rona had reached the stage where she felt comfortable to be the one asking the questions. It was her journalistic training.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked of Arabella.
“Of course, fire away,” said the painter.
“Why did you release that balloon?” said Rona, slightly tentative about the response that might be forthcoming, and very aware she didn’t want to break the trust building between them.
“Because I wanted to paint someone, someone different. I wanted someone to walk through that door who I had never seen before, and I wanted to see if I could capture their very being in paint.
“It’s a test for myself. I wanted to see if I still had the talent. It’s silly. It’s kind of personal. But it is important to me. It’s what I do. Without it, I am nothing.”
Not wanting to pry further, Rona chivvied her host along. “Come on, let’s get back to this portrait,” she said, and for the rest of the day, Arabella painted, and Rona chatted.

They met almost every other weekend for the next two years.
Arabella became an expert on Rona’s life. Her rollercoaster relationship with Fraser, the way she fell in and out of love with work depending on her boss’ moods, and her constant joy at her home surroundings, and the changing seasons, from her window on the world, at the head of that majestic Lakeland valley.
Rona became an expert on art. She learned all about Light. Colour. Composition. Different styles of painting. She learned it not from books or the internet, but first-hand from Arabella, who passed on not just her expertise on the canvas, but the way to look, smell, taste, and hear, to enable her to make her own unique artistic statement, that the world would want to share.
And not just in the works themselves but in all her materials.
Arabella credited Rona with reigniting her raw, natural, unblemished love for her painting, giving her a new lease of life.
Rona in turn loved nothing more than to get her fingers dirty preparing Arabella’s canvases, or cleaning her brushes. The fun, the love, the intimacy they shared, was through the textures, the colours, the light of their shared love for painting.
Immersed in the world of paint, art also started to flow into Rona’s writing. It seemed as natural a transition as the stream which babbled and flowed its way through the wood behind the studio.
Rona started out writing about Arabella’s latest works, and one-woman shows at a local gallery. Before long getting noticed through her blog and press work, she was soon invited to regional gallery openings.
And within the year she was getting invited to the Mall Galleries in London for the annual Royal Portrait Society Show.
Arabella always went with her. And as well as the high society exhibition openings, they also got to enjoy special times in London, walking together by the Thames.
Rona’s trips to Edinburgh to see Fraser became less frequent. He had his rugby. She had her writing. And before much longer the relationship they had faded into nothing.
If she felt some sadness at the way they had grown apart, she was happier now with her life than at any moment since her childhood.
Which is why it came as such a shock.
Rona was driving up to Arabella’s studio. No sooner had she turned her red MG up into the narrow lane, than she noticed the ambulance and blue flashing lights outside.

That all happened seven days ago.
Rona was still numb.
She still couldn’t take it in.
She was sitting in the middle of Arabella’s studio.
There was no sound.
No chatting.
No noise of chairs being positioned for the portrait session, no scraping on the floor of the easel, no click of the brushes being picked up together. No nothing.
Rona held a letter. It was dated June 5, 2015.
In it, Arabella apologised for not telling Rona she was ill. That exactly two years earlier the doctor had told her she had two years to live at best. That was the day she had released the balloon.
In the final paragraph she wrote: “Please lift the sheet on the big canvas by the window overlooking the woodland. I hope you like like it. Thank you for giving me the gift of painting. I owe you everything. Yours always. Arabella.”
When Rona, tears streaming down her pale white face, hands shaking, pulled back the sheet, she saw the most vibrant painting she had ever seen.
It was Rona, painted in different poses over the two years, with all the things she loved arranged around her, in the bottom left-hand corner a beige luggage label, and in the top right hand corner, above the heavenly clouds, a green balloon rising into the blue sky.

When Arabella’s obituary, written by Rona, appeared in The Times and was published on the website, a well-known talented painter, paid tribute to Arabella’s work. Of author Rona he concluded simply: “She paints with words.”