Responsibilities And The Portrait Of Dr. Mick

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Portrait for Dr. Mick, acrylic on canvas, 600 x 900
The other day I was awoken, at 8 am, with a nice cup of hot sweet milky coffee (Nescafe) and a lovely smile. The Smile said: Gosh, you are so lucky to be without too many responsibilities.

The Smile gets up at 6 am. To let Angelo have a pee.

I thought about that and tried to find my Responsibilities.

Not under my bed, I looked.

What and where are they?

I don't have to worry about getting kids to school, the rent is paid automatically out of my automatically deposited pension and the garbage is taken away once a week, also automatically. Normal and recyclable garbage.

When I was living in Portugal, in the eighties, on a farm in the Alentejo we had no running water, no electricity, no bathroom, no telephone or television. I had a battery powered world radio receiver, that's all.

Kerosene lamps whose chimneys had to be cleaned every day before lighting. And a dog to feed.

An 800 meter walk to the boundary fence where once a week a taxi would be waiting to take me to Elvas, a border town with Spain. For shopping.

So there my responsibilities were obvious.

Get water from the well, a 200 meter walk down a lazy hill and up. Two buckets in the morning and two buckets at night. While I was at the well I had to water my vegetable patch and watermelons. Have a shower. A bucket with a shower tap hung in the ancient walnut tree. Up the hill again. Then clean the house and get rid of nasty scorpions and other little creatures.

During the night hundreds of earwigs would lodge in the cracks on the thick old outside door to enjoy the midnight breeze. When I opened the door they would fall on the floor and I'd be waiting with a dustpan and sweep them up and throw them outside in the sun. You could count to ten and they'd stop wiggling, they'd be dead. They didn't like the sun light and I hated them. Slept at first with cotton wool in my ears, then tins with water and kerosene under the four legs of my bed!!!

Feed my dog Biki, have a lukewarm coffee with last nights water still in the cauldron and switch on my radio. Nothing that needs refrigeration, accept a few beers I kept dangling in the twenty meter deep well where I also daily wash my clothes, a T-shirt and undies.

And I painted during the day and when the sun had left us, I built a big fire to cook and keep warm. Then go to sleep with Biki on the end of my bed. Simple.

When I got back to "civilisation", I got a kick out of switching lights off and on. Too easy!!!

Back in Australia it is even easier. Push a button and I have the BBC or CNN. Water runs out of the tap. The mail is delivered and the streets are lit up at night.

So what are my responsibilities? My health, my wealth and my wisdom? I have my health, thank God, have no wealth, please God? And my wisdom is debatable, why God? Angelo and 'The Smile'. Photo by Paul Bakker.


My BIG THING is the painting I am working on at the time.

And my teeth.

And my eyes.

And our dog Angelo.

And 'The Smile'

I do often think how lucky I am. Even living in Australia where the entire population is the same as Mexico City. Imagine living in Mombay or Sao Paulo! So many people, all worrying about what to do when and where. Hopping over other people, speeding up your step to get rid of a mob of begging kids. Or worse; New York.

When I was 4 or 5 in Djakarta, not too far from 'The Smile', our dog Puti got rabies. All the dogs in the neighborhood got rounded up and put to sleep. We all had to go to Soerabaja to the Pasteur Instituut for horrible injections in our tummies. Outside, against the wall of the institute I saw a legless woman, a beautiful Indonesian girl, begging. Her hand risen up in hope. Never can forget that. I didn't understand.

As a young boy I lived in Abadan in Iran. There, it was normal to see the blind, the lame and the hungry begging for a little bit of other people's wealth.

'The Smile' lived there too.

The Koran is very specific about giving alms to the poor. Also in the Bible it is written somewhere to keep the produce of the corners of your fields for those without food. Etc. etc. etc.

Now we have a government in Australia that helps where it can. We can even openly complain. This is also a luxury.

Unlike the USA, if we need a hospital, you just go and never will you be sent away.

Well, I think that is so.

I truly never worry about becoming incapacitated and ending up in the streets begging, for Heaven's sake!!!

But my paintings can be a worry.

I go to sleep thinking about them and wake up often knowing I need to adjust a tiny little thing somewhere in that world of my Canvas. I look at it and see where the little irritants are and until I have none left it isn't finished.

Sometime I have to be ruthless and paint over the whole bloody thing, a white wash. Not too often as I have learned over the years that if you wait long enough, have just a little more patience, you will get it right. But is must indeed be RIGHT or I cannot live with it around me.

This sense of responsibility has to do with you know who. Him/Her up there.

I have been blessed with a perfect colour memory. Many years ago in The Hague, Holland, I was in a bric-a-brac shop and on the top shelf I saw a stack of paintings leaning against the wall. One painting showing just a few inches of its edge and I knew instantly the colour was mine. I knew that yellow. My yellow/brown.

I pointed at the canvas and told the man; "I did that when I was 15". He looked at me thinking I was mad but got a ladder and took the painting down.

It was indeed a canvas I had done many years ago as a teenager for friends of my parents. A clown drinking a glass of red wine.

In a robbery in their house the thieves had also taken the picture. Here, twenty years later, I found it again. The man looked at me in disbelief and wanted 250 guilders for it. Didn't have that but later I went back to buy it but it had gone. I think the owner, a well known dodgy figure in The Hague, a pimp, a bar owner and "antique dealer" told me he had sold it. I think his instinctive fear of being a "fence" made him get rid of it.

But I started writing about my responsibilities, so...

The painting I am doing now is a kind of a portrait. A portrait of a friend. He's 42. He asked me to do it but with one restriction: No recognisable features. We call him Dr. Mick. A political scientist and lecturer at our local University. A man who can chuckle. For me one of the better signs of the human being.

He is entertaining, funny and full of anecdotes. But I never can tell where he really stands politically. On the left, right or in the middle. Above maybe?

He has naturally an amazing knowledge of history regarding wars. He also knows every plane and aircraft we have and had on this Earth.

And obviously a vast knowledge of political games.

And other things.

So I started to paint a bluish space and out of it floated all the symbols I could think of that depict our modern age. A cross, a Swastika, a Dollar sign, the Hammer and Sickle, etc. etc. etc.

I have finished it, I think.

I have one little irritant, a blue is too bright so I will tone it down. Then Dr. Mick can take it home and do with it what he wants.

Maybe in a few years time I'll find it on a top shelf in a bric-a-brac shop and say to the shopkeeper; "I did that, I know that blue".

But that isn't my responsibility, no?

phb

Comments

Hallo Paul! weer met aandacht je tekst gelezen. Mooi. Maar die opmerking over dat pensioen interesseerd mij. Het kan niet van Van Hulzen zijn, die deed er niet aan voor z'n medewerkers. Ben jij al AOW ontvanger? Interessant. Laatst met Han Kuipers weer eens de Escher tentoonstelling bezocht in het paleisje op het voorhout. Inspirerend! Ik stuur je tzt een gezamenlijk Jos/Han/Escher portret via de mail separaat. Ben de komenda maanden in mijn Franse huis, daarna weer een paar workshops geven voor de medewerkers bij, jawel: Van Hulzen! Het allerbeste, Jos