Jackson Pollock Jigsaw

I do like hearing her talk. It calms me. It is so deliciously inconsequential. Does she know that I am doing it – getting her talk so that I don’t have to? Though to be fair when I do talk she does listen, with that way of saying yes, that she has, stretching out the vowel then the consonant, her head on one side. It’s the stories she tells, of her family, her partner, her colleague and that chuckle that she has. They’d been to Amsterdam, her and her colleague and their partners for their Christmas do. They’ve got into the habit of going somewhere, one year it was Dublin, another time Las Vegas other times its been to a health spa in Chester. I wanted to hear about Amsterdam. I can see it as she is talking – her eyes alight with the memory of it. Then we got on to art, as she pushed away at my cuticles with a metal prong. I told her what I was planning to do next week. I don’t understand Modern Art, she said. I get that. And I get the discomfort it gives her. But she was interested. I like art that is about something happening, she said. Then she started to talk about her mother-in-law and her passion for Jackson Pollock. Jackson Pollock and jigsaws. She’s eighty and she loves him, well his work, that is. They eventually found one in San Francisco when they were out last year with her for their surprise nuptials where she was to be the only witness. It was huge and she just stood in front of it and stared and stared, she said. Her partner took a picture and made it into a jigsaw for her. She loves them, there’s always one on the go on a sheet of card in her bedroom, she said. She gets up and does it when she can’t sleep. We thought a Jackson Pollock jigsaw would be a bit of a joke, but she did it. She won’t do any below 2,000 pieces, she said.

A young lad in a hoodie was being bundled into a police car as I approached the station. It was an unmarked car, and initially I thought they were security men in their high vis jackets but there was a police woman too, a truncheon hanging from her belt. He was being forced into the back seat. I couldn’t see his face, just his trainers and bottoms of his grey tracksuit. I can fuckin’ get myself in, he was shouting. Is this par for the course for him, being nicked, caught red-handed up to no good, giving lip to a policeman? What had he been doing? An alarm was sounding inside Wetherspoons. Was that his doing? I would never have dreamt of being rude to a policeman – we were taught to have respect for people in uniform. It was drummed into us regardless of merit. His experience is clearly different. I was sad for him, for the inevitability of it all. And sad for them, yet another stereotype playing to form.

Our usual Friday morning phone call and she started to talk about watching the game. She said she never used to be interested in rugby but someone took her to see the Scarlets and she really enjoyed it. I can’t picture it. She is such a gentle soul. We didn’t have electricity but we had a television, she said. (How?) My father always wore a cloth cap and he’d throw it at the telly when the rugby was on. She laughs at this. She is sounding better. Still weak but there is laughter.

It brought me down. It is nothing. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a gift I want to make for him. But it is going wrong. I’ve been too ambitious. And I’ve lost heart. Do I persevere or give up and try a different way? You see all those good intentions. I don’t seem to be able to discriminate between wanting to make a perfect quilt, write a perfect book or fry a perfect egg. Failure gets to me, that same hotness round my collar I felt as a child when things didn’t work out as planned. It was shame, as it is now. So often I can see it all, finished, and shining. It rarely matches the vision. But isn’t that what creating is, that being prepared to deal with the clumsy, the awkward, the ill-conceived? I have to change so many of my pre-conceptions about the nature of work, about what constitutes failure and what success, and about myself. I seek such rigid definitions, am more nebulous than that? And is that so bad?  

I think, no practice in my head what I will say to them at the door of the gallery on Tuesday. I’ve come to sew, I’ll say, to complete this tapestry, to compare it to the original. I will not refer to the crinoline. Not if they don’t. Will they?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.