Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Personal Peace (06/01/06)
- TITLE: God's Grandeur
By Val Clark
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I follow Shelly, the Community Centre coordinator, down a corridor of disabled artists, my eyes neither turning left or right, until we reach the end of the long room.
Why must she work at the far end of the room?
Bettina Rose turns her head towards us.
‘This is Natalie, from the Daily News.’
Bettina frowns slightly and I wish someone else had scored the assignment. The centre closes in an hour. That’s about all I can cope with.
A sudden smile transforms her face. ‘Of course, Natalie, hi.’ She nods towards her painting. ‘I was kinda absorbed.’
Shelly leaves and I feel abandoned. I don’t know what to say. Her painting is not what my research led me to believe I would find. The canvas is dominated by two brown masses, one on each side. Messes would be a more accurate description. Scratchy yellow blobs dot the bottom third. The next third is a conglomeration of purples. I’m loath to even ask her what it is.
She picks up a small flat ended brush in her mouth and moves three different greens and a blob of white from the edge of her pallet to the centre.
I turn on my recorder but all my carefully prepared questions are now obsolete.
I don’t understand. A few hours in the public library, flicking through the Natural History books and seeing her paintings of orchids, wildflowers and indigenous blossoms from around the world revealed an awesome talent. Each flower was rendered with such unerring accuracy I expected the perfume to rise from the page.
She wets the four blobs of paint slightly and works them so that they overlap.
‘This brush,’ she indicates with a nod, ‘is pure sable.’
I’ve never seen anything like it before. The hair part is thin and as long as my index finger.
She picks up the brush, bends her head forward, and lays it over the four colors, twisting it until it is fully coated with paint.
How on earth can a brush like that be applied to the canvas - it’s limper than a banana skin.
Suddenly she is whipping the canvas with the brush. Flick. Flick. Flick. Her head waving manically, until no more paint remains on the brush. With skill born of practice she quickly twists the brush through the paint and returns again and again to the canvas.
I can’t work out how the mostly vertical strokes add anything to the already confusing painting.
She lays the brush aside.
‘Do you write anything, apart from for the newspaper, Natalie?’
‘Poetry.’ I hope that she gets from the tone of my voice that I don’t want to talk about my poetry. It’s worse than her painting – if that’s possible.
‘I hated poetry at school. We had to learn it off by heart. Even then it meant nothing to me.’
She tilts her head awkwardly on one side.
‘Did you ever have to read God’s Grandeur?’
I can’t help it, the words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
‘Yes, that’s exactly where I stopped, too. I traveled the world seeking God’s grandeur by recreating, for people less fortunate that myself, the flowers he created. Noble, don’t you think?’
I jump aside as she maneuvers her electric chair backwards. A slight inclination of the head and I follow her to the far wall.
When I turn I am stunned. The brown blobs have become intricate escarpments. The green and white streaks, sun glistened grasses. The yellow; tiny individual flowers, and the purple; massed flowers.
‘The end of the line, Natalie.’
For a moment I am confused. I remember the poem.
‘Why do men not now wreck his rod?’*
‘I worshipped the creation and not the creator. It took falling down a disused mine shaft to help me separate out the tiny details and see the big picture. Do you understand?
‘I’m starting a new project on Saturday. Would you come and help? Clean brushes, stuff like that. You’re sensitive, not intrusive.’
No. I can’t bear to be in a room full of disabled people.
‘Yes,’ slips out before I can stop it.
Perhaps I will learn more about this big picture.
* God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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