Image by Christine Renney
Even after so long it seems strange that I managed to find my way here. I didn’t suddenly become interested in art and start to visit galleries. Nevertheless, in this small town, the town where I once lived and where I still work, I found myself drawn here.
At first I sat outside and it was weeks, possibly months, before I ventured in. I would sit on a bench and while away my lunch hour. Why, during the course of my not so busy day, did I feel the need to escape? I live alone and only whilst at work am I able to interact with others.
Nevertheless there I sat, day after day, and from the safety of my bench I watched the visitors. They were almost exclusively couples and most middle aged or older.
The young rarely come here. I suspected that the paintings inside would resemble those who came to look, that they would be comfortable and safe. In a word respectable. Despite this, as the days turned to weeks I became more intrigued but I wasn’t ready to enter, not yet.
The visitors were sparse, few and far between, and I had started to linger (nobody at the office seemed to have noticed my continual absences) and, determined, I awaited the arrival of the next couple. They would walk briskly along the path and after I had watched them push through the doors and disappear into the gallery I would feel compelled to wait until they emerged. Blinking in the direct sunlight they would gaze out across the grass, staring directly at my bench, but they couldn’t see me. They weren’t able to find me or at least not at first, not until they were able to take a little time to readjust.
For the most part the gallery remained empty, deserted, apart from a woman who sat behind a counter just inside the front doors, residing over a makeshift shop through which, when I entered, I had no choice but to pass. If the visitors hardly noticed me she was all too aware of my presence. How could she not have noticed me on my bench where I sat so often and for so long?
I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a public space but I began to feel guilty and under her scrutiny I began to act furtively. When I did enter it was under cover. I dogged the steps of an elderly couple and as one we moved across the foyer.
I had been seen of course and the woman abandoned her counter to follow us in. She studied me from afar and I found this most disconcerting. I was unable to concentrate and couldn’t focus. But slowly a picture, one of the paintings, began to take shape and form. I could see and when I did, when I looked, I realised what was possible. The woman continued to glower but I didn’t care. I could outlast her. The painting was of a garden, wild and labyrinthine and I wanted in, no matter how much effort or how long it took.
And from here, without fear of rebuke and reprisal, I can now watch the art lovers, all of those couples, and occasionally I glimpse a man on his own gazing into the bright sunlight.