Posts Tagged ‘Gulley Jimson’

Blackpaint 65

February 11, 2010

Art in Fiction

First in an occasional series, has to be “The Horse’s Mouth” by Joyce Cary.  Published in 1944, it is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read – not because the events are so outlandish or surreal, but because of the dialogue and the characters.  They speak a strange mixture of slang and poetry but to my ears, like nothing I’ve come across, except maybe a little like cinema cockney of the period.  Perhaps its because Cary was an Irishman and as an outsider in South London heard things that natives would miss.  I found it sort of lumpy and difficult to read, but now remember more of it than many other novels I have read.

Briefly, its hero is Gulley Jimson (odd name for a start), who is an elderly, unscrupulous, poverty-stricken, “ex-jailbait” reprobate of a painter, who also happens to be a brilliant, uncompromising, visionary artist.  The descriptions he gives of his work – bearing in mind that he is an unreliable narrator – sound rather like Stanley Spencer.  here’s the poening paragraph, as a taste:  “I was walking by the Thames.  Half-past morning on an autumn day.  Sun in a mist.  Like an orange in a fried fish shop.  All bright below.  low tide, dusty water and a crooked bar of straw, chicken-boxes, dirt and oil from mud to mud.  Like a viper swimming in skim milk.  The old serpent, symbol of nature and love.”

Jimson lies, drinks, chisels and blags his way through life, remaining true only to his art.  The book ends very darkly indeed and it is difficult to pinpoint its tone.  the blurb on the back of the Penguin – Ivor Brown in the Observer – describes it as a “lively parade of gross and roaring Bohemian humours …… a nailer and a knockout”.

Listening to The Sun is Shining by Elmore James:

“The sun is shining, but you know its raining in my heart (*2)

You know I love you darlin’, but the best of friends must part”.