Three amazing things happened this month. I chanced to meet a postman (actually a lady!) standing in for our usual postman – who stopped to ask if this was my house, with the fresco on the side.
We talked a while about the neighborhood and how she used to paint and live in London; she said she loved being assigned this particular route because the gigantic picture of a country village cheered her up. She looked forward to it, enjoyed it for half her journey down the street, and pondered on it afterwards.
That was a fine day for me. Then on the spur of the moment, I sent a fresco tile – the first I’d attempted back in 2012 – to a man in Mexico who had been very helpful to a family member. The tile looked a little forlorn by itself so I sketched a cartoon on the back – an enthusiastic Pope about to slap “one more coat of paint!” on the Sistine Ceiling – and packaged it off to the Americas. It also gave me a chance to try a Bedford packaging firm who promise an indestructible packing crate for anything – literally anything – and it turns out they do exactly that. It arrived intact and turns out he was moved by this much more than I’d expected.
So far so good. But days later something quite extraordinary happened. I’d been invited to a local school to see about helping create a mural there. And when the day finally arrived and I met the art teacher, long after the school had closed, I found two of the children, aged about ten, had stayed behind to give a presentation just for me. Now this was something!
Sure enough, they’d made a Powerpoint show entitled, incredibly, “Meeting Iain Carstairs: the chance of a lifetime”. And this presentation, all about their school and why they wanted to create a mural, was really well put together – it had a narrative which they took turns reading out, each picture transformnig into the next: one image folded itself up into an origami swan, and flew away! It was simply marvellous. This was overwhelming enough but then I was asked to autograph some pictures they’d taken of the fresco, and even their pencil cases!
It’s hard to explain how moved I was by their enthusiasm and sincerity, because these days we often have to work in a vacuum. For example, I remember giving a 1993 presentation in which one manager had gasped in astonishment and I’d been puzzled to see his enthusiasm vanish when his neighbour quietly elbowed him in the ribs. I later found that staff had been specifically briefed in advance not to show any enthusiasm in case we charged more money for our radical new product. This is absolutely true.
It’s natural to hope your work has some influence for the good, but you also suspect it’s a very diffused thing, almost subliminal – a drop in the bucket for those drenched by TV and big budget films vying for attention. So to find what you did with a paintbrush on a rickety scaffold has really influenced someone can be daunting, especially when you remember any shortcuts you took. Say, during a freezing Christmas Eve snowstorm with water running down your neck and lime water eating your skin, panicking over no time to buy gifts and cards now long forgotten, as the shops began to close and the light grew dim – now you understand those hours saved hurrying up cheated someone, somewhere, out of something.
Inevitably, there are two morals coming our way. One – if you believe in something, you must give it everything you’ve got, because someone, somewhere is going to appreciate it – and those people are precisely the ones you’re working for. And the other – if the school wall I’m hoping for is made available, it must become the best thing I’ve ever done!
Coming soon – in no particular order:
- a long-standing mystery of Lascaux – solved!
- the miracle of fasting!
- the booklet to end all wars!