May 2nd, Puerta de Elvira, Weather, hot.
It’s a funny thing. When you stand at the site of a cityscape you’ve previously spent hours depicting in paint you feel a whole new level of intimacy with it. You see that funny hole in the wall that possibly looks bigger now than it did when you worked on your masterpiece, or perhaps you see anew an odd bit of guttering that caused your perspective line to go wonky (you weren’t amused at the time but now that damned guttering seems almost lovable). At such moments you can’t help but smile.
But this curious mix of the familiar and the new can also jar. When I arrived at the Puerta this afternoon and plonked myself down at my favourite spot I felt an uneasy sense of passing time.
Slowly, even over a short period of weeks, my painting of the arch has crept further away from current reality. The change is almost inexorable but to the trained eye (and I don’t know how many times I’ve clapped mine over this place now) it’s unequivocal. The question is, is it the Puerta that’s changing or is it my painting? It’s not such a dumb thing to ask. Too many trips to the kerbside have seen my wonderful depiction come under siege from car fumes, the footwear of clumsy French students, and the odd spot of rain. It’s not in pristine nick I have to say but still, I guess it isn’t really the painting that’s changed, it’s the area itself. The change is only slight, and not many would notice, but I feel the need to paint a fresh version coming upon me.
Of course when you think about it logically no place ever looks exactly the same two days running, or even five minutes apart. What the artist paints is merely a snapshot in time, a frozen moment that’s gone before the paint dries. If I’d stood here a few hundred years ago I could’ve feasted my eyes on the rotting heads of dead criminals lined up across the top of the arch. What a painting that would’ve made!
I can remember the first time I saw the arch. I came down the hill from the Albaicin and wasn’t expecting to see any such a structure. It was late October and the evening was cold, wet and dark. As is the night time practice, the arch was lit up by powerful electric lights and if truth be told, that’s how I still prefer to see it. It’s a completely different beast in the sunshine. Not quite as romantic I’d say, but obviously still prettier than seeing it festooned with severed heads.
Anyway, I got myself comfy this afternoon (whilst trying to look hungry and in need), and passed the time with a little sketching. Naturally I began in earnest with that wonky guttering ...