Georg Baselitz pioneered the first ever upside-down paintings. He deliberately painted the image upside down, he didn’t just turn the canvas around when it was finished. Many critics thought this was just a bit too gimmicky. Others believed Baselitz’s works ‘derived from philosophical, perceptual propositions of great originality’. I can appreciate the ‘great originality’ of the idea, but I can’t stop the words ‘arty’ and ‘farty’ jumping straight into my head!
My mother said I would regret choosing art as a career. My father couldn’t care less what I chose. He was, however, worried about Ned and drama. If he’d ever seen any of Ned’s acting; if he’d bothered to go to the school plays or the drama group productions like I had, he wouldn’t have been so worried. My brother was a natural. We were still in nappies when he began to people his world with characters from his imagination. They occasionally took him over so that he became someone else entirely. Many times, over the years, his acting made me laugh so hard I was sick, or cry until I had a headache.
As kids, we would sit together in a tent pitched in the middle of the room we shared. It was like a wigwam, but one we’d made by haphazardly stitching old sheets together and stealing bamboo canes out of the garden. Only we two were allowed in. No family. No friends. Because, inside that tent, was our own little world. A stage for Ned, a studio for me. We would sit together for hours, forgetting empty tummies and full bladders and all the boring routines of life. I had my drawing pad and my coloured pencils on my knee. Ned told me all about the people in his world. I drew them for him.
“Draw an apple for Murphy. He loves apples more than anything.”
I drew an apple for Murphy and tilted the pad.
“No. He only likes red apples. Not green ones.”
I rubbed out the apple, picked up the red pencil, and started again. “What about Mia Emilia? What does she like best?”
“Mia Emilia doesn’t like anything anymore. She’s always sad. She has a face like this.” He pulled the saddest face I’d ever seen. “And she only ever talks in a whisper.”
“Why is she so sad?”
“Because Murphy thought her heart was an apple, and accidentally ate it.”
I accepted that. I was eight. It sounded plausible, so I drew that too. “Where do they live?”
Ned looked at me strangely. “Underneath.”
He pointed downwards. “Murphy and Mia are just underneath us, but upside down, in a wigwam just like this one.”
“Don’t they fall, if they’re upside down?”
“No. To them, it feels like they’re the right way round.”
Once, my mother decided to clean the tent out. We didn’t know about it until we got home from school. I knew something was wrong as soon as I walked into the room. Though there was nothing to see, the atmosphere was one of violation. I smelt a faded note of my mother’s sweet perfume and knew what she’d done before I even looked into the tent.
Downstairs there was a bin bag in the kitchen and my mother stood in front of it with folded arms. She looked down at us, her eight-year old twins, as if we were strangers to her.
“What have you been doing in that tent?”
“Playing,” I said.
“Playing,” said Ned.
Both at the same time.
“I found pictures.” She shivered and tightened her arms, “Horrible pictures.”
“Horrible?” I thought she meant they were badly drawn. I was devastated.
“So horrible I had to throw them away.”
The bin bag behind her was full of my crushed pictures, Ned’s crushed characters, our crushed little world that she didn’t understand. An upside-down world where a girl’s heart could be easily mistaken for an apple.
It was the first time I remember wishing myself in that world and not this one.
It was the last time my mother showed any interest in my artwork.