Self-portrait painted by Edward King. Scroll down for Maggie Sawkins’s three short pieces, The Man in the Mirror, The Dog’s Collar and Seven Questions to the Artist Edward King inspired by this painting.
Self-Portrait by Edward King. Image courtesy of Portsmouth Museums ©
The Man in the Mirror
by Maggie Sawkins
Thank you for turning up old chap. So much easier to paint oneself. Now then, let’s take a closer look at you. That’s it, lean in, lean in. You’re looking a bit sallow today, I notice. No wonder, penned up here year after year with this chorus of cuckoos. Not to mention the diet. No wonder Van Gogh cut off his ear. The boredom’s enough to make you want to slit your throat. Now where’s my new brush? Could do with more natural light if I’m to continue with your nose. Let’s move this trusty easel over to the French window, shall we? That’s better.
Mm. I suppose this is how you’ll be remembered. A tattered tweed coat upon a stick, forever squinting from behind a pair of wire rim spectacles. A proper spectacle indeed. What a way to end one’s days. A boat adrift on an ocean of boredom, that’s what you are. Makes one want to pull out one’s hair! Where’s your house with its windows and fireplace and its bowl of lovely oranges, eh? And where’s your lovey? She wouldn’t have allowed this, now would she?
I must warn you – don’t go questioning anything or they’ll have you locked up too. Why did I mention Adam and Eve to Dr Beaton in the first place? The fool. What does he know? Anyone with a shred of intelligence can see through the virgin birth. A tale told by an idiot, that’s what it is. I’m with the Greeks on this. They knew all about origins. Man was created from the parts of a slain monster, that’s the top and tail of it. The hind parts if you ask me. Now, don’t move, I need to put a final layer of raw umber to that shadow on the side of your nose, before the tube runs dry. I’ll have to see the old boy at the houseboat graveyard tomorrow for more. That’s if they let me. You never know with this lot with their whimsical hands on their whimsical keys.
Sister tells me it’s Easter Sunday tomorrow. Ishtar! Eggs and bunnies. Fertility and Sex! The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And man became a living soul. What tosh the religious talk. Only a fool would believe. There’s more soul in the leaf of that old chestnut out there.
No use you staring at me like that. It’s a pity I can’t get hold of some Prussian blue for your eyes. Just as well I have you squinting. Who’s to know anyway? No-one will notice in Kingdom Come. They’ll probably burn you, frame and all, in the holy fire after I’ve gone. Go on soul – clap your hands and sing! Gather me into the artifice of eternity, God, why don’t you? I can’t stand it any longer. Waking each morning to this field of grief. If I were a rabbit at least someone might shoot me. Damn it! Now look what you’ve made me do! I’ve spilt the turpentine all down your coat.
The Dog’s Collar
by Maggie Sawkins
Setting: The grounds of St James’s Hospital. Edward King is sitting at an easel. A male patient, Bob, in dressing gown and slippers, wanders up and sits on a bench beside him.
EK: I don’t suppose you’ve seen a tube of Cobalt Blue on your travels, have you dear man?
BOB: Cobalt Blue? Sorry mate. Only thing I saw on me travels was Maisie with her knickers down. Anyway, them’s bricks you’re painting – why do you need Cobalt Blue?
EK: Since you ask, it’s for touching up the dog’s collar.
BOB: The dog’s collar eh? Looks green from where I’m sitting.
EK: Actually, it’s grey, and I don’t see the dog’s collar’s any of your business.
Bob stands up and sits down again.
BOB: No need to adopt that tone. You’ve been spending too long with those toffs on the High Street if you ask me.
EK: I’m not asking you. The only thing I’m asking is have you seen my tube of Cobalt Blue. Anyway, I’m stationed at Hyde Park Corner if you must know. Not a toff in sight. Thank the gods.
BOB: Maisie said she saw you down at Milton Locks yesterday. Staring at a houseboat she said. Said you looked like a spy. (Pause) Come to think of it. What did you do before you was locked up? I heard you used to play the violin. In Germany.
EK: Ah poor Germany. Poor Leipzig. Poor, poor, poor, Amelia. My muse. Gone. Everything’s gone. To the dogs. Can you call the nurse?
BOB: You’ll be saying poor Hitler next. Anyway, which nurse? Hope you don’t mean the one that lives in Oyster Street. Cos she don’t live there no more. Not since the Germans dropped a bomb on her gentle abode. Nothing left but a hole in the roof. So Maisie said.
EK: I need to find the tube of Cobalt Blue. There’s so much rust. So much rust. I’m sick to death of rust. Fetch the nurse!
BOB: I can see you’re getting overwrought my friend. What you need is a trip down to the seaside. Like old Turner. He would’ve gone mad too if all he had to paint was a load of old rubble. You seen his paintings? A master he was. A master.
EK: Please, call the nurse. What’s the name of this place? Saint, Saint — James’s – that’s it. It’s a hospital, damn it – there has to be a nurse. Please God Almighty in Heaven above, send me a nurse!
Bob stands up and sits down again. He removes a tube of paint from his pocket.
BOB: Here have this. Titanium White it says here. Maisie borrowed it – for her painting of an albino rabbit. Not quite the same as blue, but least it’ll cover the rust. I’d leave the dog’s collar as it is if I were you.
Seven Questions to the Artist Edward King (1862-1951)
by Maggie Sawkins
Which do you prefer to paint or draw?
– Why do you ask?
Have you drawn the short straw?
– No, I’ve drawn a junkanoo mask.
Will you finish the 1000-piece jigsaw?
– Too much of a task.
Which of us has a tragic flaw?
– The woman in green wearing a basque.
Have you painted seagulls on the seashore?
– Yes, wearing a birdcage mask.
What’s your way of dealing with a bore?
– Talk about the shipping forecast.
Is that a sketch of your mother-in-law?
– No, it’s a sketch of my vacuum flask.
This poem is written loosely in the form of a sonnet. It is based on the idea of the once popular psychological testing, whose statistical correlation of results were designed to discriminate between ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ personality traits and behaviours.
© Maggie Sawkins (2017)
Maggie’s poetry collections include Charcot’s Pet (Flarestack) and The Zig Zag Woman (Two Ravens Press). Her work has been frequently anthologised and her articles on poetry and well-being are included in Writing Your Self(Continuum) and Writing Routes (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). In 2013 she was chosen by the Poetry Book Society to represent Portsmouth on the T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize Tour. Maggie won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her live literature production, ‘Zones of Avoidance.’ The book, Zones of Avoidance – featuring poetry from the production – was published in Spring 2015 by Cinnamon Press.
I was instantly attracted to Edward King’s self-portrait because his face and demeanour reminded me of the local amateur artist, Ted Hurd, who took up painting in later life. One of the advantages of painting a self-portrait is, that with the aid of a mirror placed next to the canvas, you get to be your own model. I chose to write this piece as a monologue because of this introspective nature of self-portraiture.
On a more personal level, I remember visiting my father in King Villa when I was thirteen after he had taken an overdose. My father was affected by a ‘manic-depressive’ illness for much of his life and spent the last of his days in St James’.
The three pieces I’ve written have a slightly ‘absurd’ quality. I believe being able to see the funny side of life can be a great antidote, and may even help to ward off depression.Maggie Sawkins
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All Edward King images used on this website are courtesy of Portsmouth Museums ©.