Fifty years ago I sold (for £12) my first picture to a proper collection, that of the JCR of Pembroke College, Oxford. This was a watercolour called The City. Last month this same Junior Common Room made a second purchase, slightly smaller for a slightly higher price. In their now splendidly hung gallery these two works, though separated in time by half a century hang merely inches apart.
My present self remembers painting The City as an undergraduate in my Walton Crescent lodgings but my past self could not have imagined making Rima's Song... and would probably not have been able to identify it as mine, or even to have 'understood' it.
The City, 1958, gouache.
Rima has quite a role in fiction. She is not only the jungle girl of W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions but the heroine of H. W. K. Collam's Come Autumn Hand, from which came the idea of my largest drawing, Rima's Wall. Her name is also, by nice coincidence, an anagram of Irma, the femme fatale of A Human Document (and hence A Humument). I was more than delighted, rummaging in a New York vintage comics store, to come across her again, once more a jungle goddess in tales like Safari of Death from Rima a short lived DC comics series from the seventies, brilliantly drawn by the enviably named Filipino artist Nestor Redondo.
Rima's Wall, 1991-2, pastel, h220cms x w1150cms
The Rima in Collam's story is less exotic, and cherishes an album of esoteric postcards. Using material from the DC comics I echoed them in a series of postcard-sized collages. Rima's Song is one of these, and one of my many attempts to convey the look and feel of music by means of an abstract notation; a song without words or specified tones. All the tiny fragments that make up this miniature metascore come from Redondo's harmonious colours and fine-tuned marks.
I was very impressed when the young committee members lighted upon this small and unassuming piece. To be truthful I was almost dismayed since it is a favourite thing I had half intended to keep. But it has found a good home not far from the Ashmolean which contains quite a comprehensive collection of my drawings, and the Bodleian which houses my archive. Fifty years ago the committee's predecessors chose the best thing on offer and their present members have more or less done it again. Artists be warned: if the Pembroke people come knocking at your door, they have very sharp eyes.