This may have been triggered by a scene I witnessed years ago. Once I went to drop off a birthday present at a friend’s house. She was out (or hiding behind the sofa) so I looked at the adjacent semi-detached houses in the hope of leaving the present there.
A few houses away I went up a short drive and waited for someone to come to the front door. In the adjoining house I heard muffled commotion. The hall light was on and the voices I could hear were getting louder. Suddenly a black taxi cab pulled up outside the house at the end of the garden.
In the meantime someone answered my knock and I left the gift with them. Next door a woman was purposefully walking down the garden path carrying two cases. A man was in the threshold of the doorway barking, “You’re overreacting! There’s no need for this! Come back and think about what you're doing - have you taken leave of your senses?”
“I’m not chasing after you!” the man barked down the path.
“Just get out of my life!” she said without looking over her shoulder.
I don’t know if the man was embarrassed but he didn’t cross the threshold of the doorway.
The person I had just given the present to obviously knew his neighbours and stepped out onto the path.
“Is everything alright?” he asked in the way we ask daft questions.
The woman hauling the cases down the path turned round.
“Not a good time, Karl,” she said.
I did not want to be there. I thanked Karl for taking in the present and walked away.
For some reason the driver of the black taxi hadn’t got out of the car to help the woman with her cases. I lifted one into the taxi for her and pushed it across the floor.
In the meantime the taxi driver said something to the woman. I don’t know what but she suddenly said to me, “Take the case out - take it out.” So I pulled the case back out onto the pavement and she closed the door. The taxi drove away. I would love to know what he said to her.
I got out of there. I often wonder what the woman’s immediate actions were. Did she return to the house? Did Karl take her in? Did she ring another taxi? What did the driver say to make her react like that?
In the typical English way I can’t abide clashes between people but this incident always stuck in my mind. I’m not sure if this painting came from this embedded memory or not - I drew out the scene and started painting it. I remember being in Edinburgh with my mum when we went to the Edinburgh Tattoo. I was in a busy shopping centre and a woman was hysterically reprimanding her boyfriend in front of everyone. With raised hands she screamed, “You never change!” and stormed off, her face red with rage. (On that same day I remember waiting to cross the road at a zebra crossing. A few rain drops came down and a man behind me shouted to the sky, “Don’t rain on me!” - folk in Edinburgh are a bit weird.)
Whenever I see an old battered suitcase I think of my granddad Outram who used to come and stay with us. He used the same battered case for years. It smelled of unfiltered Woodbine cigarettes which he smoked (he started smoking at 11 years old.) I had a small snooker table and he sometimes had to balance his cigarette on the side while he took a shot. I would have a puff but did not swallow any smoke. They tasted like 100-year-old odour-eaters.
At an early stage the canvas got ripped. I transport paintings between places and on one trip I braked hard and some lengths of wood slid into the front of the car and ripped the canvas.
To paint the man on the right I had to pose behind our front door. It’s easier to paint from a photo than imagination.