Paper Mache Sobs #bruttafigura

If I’m honest, I don’t quite know why I’m doing this. I take our copy of Patrick Caulfield’s After Lunch off the picture hooks and remove the print from the frame. I have a bucket of hot water waiting and a long wooden spoon. I spend some time cutting the picture into tiny pieces, carefully with scissors, then losing patience and tearing off little pieces. She left the copy in the hope that she would have it shipped over to her new place when she settled. I gather up the pieces and dump them into the bucket of boiling water. I push the floaters under with the spoon and stir. I allow the pulpy mash to cool for a few hours before adding more hot water. This process continues for most of the afternoon.

I clench a handful of wet sops in my hand. Do I eat? Spoon them up and flick them at strangers? I could stuff the mush into envelopes and ship the lot out to her. It’s not your fault, Patrick Caulfield. I love your art. It’s nothing personal. I’m engaging and interacting with your work in a way you would find interesting. But, Patrick, why didn’t you take it all with you? I think of a hero of mine, Frank Sidebottom, you know I do, I really do. I see his big paper mache head and those vulnerable, childlike, staring, big eyes. I think of the person who lived inside. Was he as optimistic and curious as Frank? To be anonymous and not have to be defined by given names or status. To not have to compete with society’s idea of beauty. I slip into a reverie where I step outside my front door and see a world populated with people wearing enormous paper mache heads. Anonymous but synonymous. I feel the muscles in my face forming a smile. I must research how to make a mould for a head.

***

The new head that glares back at me in the mirror doesn’t seem as innocent as Frank Sidebottom. Neither is it clear what it’s supposed to represent. Maybe it’s the dull light creeping in, but what I see is a deformed thing, an unholy misshapen monstrosity; a brutal, severe mask of fright. A haunted visage of fear and pain. To think that something so ugly could emerge from elegant source material. The shadows are crawling further in to the room, casting a sullen light over my new face. I raise my palms to my face as if I want to weep. I stare at my hands, surprised that they could have moulded this creation. My body language reacts in response to the mask. I creep around the house, making defensive gestures, cowering, covering my face, forming jagged shapes on the wall. I look at my reflection again. A brutta figura is what the Italians might call me. I imagine myself walking gingerly through town, sneaking around and hiding behind the isles of the supermarket. But in my imagination the town and the supermarket are deserted. Shopping trolleys are strewn over the car park, as if everyone had escaped from some catastrophe. I should scale the plinth in the town centre and crown the historical figure that graces it. I can’t even remember the name of the person who is represented there. We don’t celebrate and pay homage to failures unless they die in honour. I remove the mask. I am revealed.

‘I’ll keep you for a little while yet,’ I say to the head. ‘But you need a name. Don’t be offended…but can I call you Pat?’

Jason Winstanley

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