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The Barmaid: a Painting by Andrew Sookrah

The Barmaid: a Painting by Andrew Sookrah

The Barmaid: a Painting by Andrew Sookrah

It must have been about eight years ago. Andrew Sookrah, a shining star in the artistic firmament was having a one-man show of his paintings at the Arts and Letters Club. My wife Ann and I were mesmerized by his unique portraits. One could spot these works across the room as a Sookrah. That’s the kind of art we liked to buy and enjoy. So we ended up purchasing this arresting work featuring the barmaid. I never learned her name nor discussed this portrait with her. So the following is purely from my imagination.
You will notice that the artist has used a confined palette of orange and blue for this painting—an odd choice and one might casually dismiss it as too restrictive to capture the nuances of a human face. But study it for a moment and you will see that it is exactly perfect for the task in hand. Somehow it adds a mysterious uniqueness to this otherwise unidentified human being. Let’s study it for a moment. The woman appears to be in the process of pulling a draft beer for one of the guests. You notice her hand is squashed by the pressure of the lever. But is she interested in the guest—her customer? Is she interested in the task at hand? Apparently neither one . Perhaps she is just routinely doing her job and oblivious of the here and now, or even the there and when. Concentrate for a moment on her eyes. She is gazing into a space not occupied by any other present person. And those well painted lips: neither smiling, nor frowning—perhaps pensive is the word. So a significant part of her is simply not there at the Arts and Letters Club! So where has she gone? Ah-h-h, interesting question.
Well if we are going to weave a story around this enigmatic woman then we need a name for her. I conjured up “Josephine” as her portrait name. There is a touch of mystery about that name and, furthermore, I have always been an admirer of Napoleon—even though he would have been a bit short for her if there had been a real connection. (I visualize her as well over five and a half feet.) So Josephine it is, never Josie or any other contraction, but always Josephine.
I recall, one day when I was studying the painting yet again, I asked her about her thoughtful and even melancholy expression. She shrugged it off as nothing. I wondered if it was because of the unexpected and tragic death of her twin sister. (She was called Jennifer.) But I didn’t press the point. You see, it was a very sad affair. Jenn had a suitor with whom she had been going steady for nearly ten years. He was faithful and loving, but she wouldn’t sacrifice her virginity unless he married her. It was not that she thought being a virgin at 33 was something of which she could be proud, it was just that her Roman Catholic upbringing and her loving but strict parents made purity imperative.
Now her wannabe lover, Jason (a lot of Js in this story) had no such scruples. It wasn’t that he was wayward or wanton, for he was indeed upright and faithful, but he didn’t see the need of an ancient ceremony performed by a robed stranger in front of a host of forgotten friends and relatives, to solemnize a love that was so private to Jenn and himself. So he never proposed, and Jenn, fearful of losing him, in turn never proposed to him. (What if he said “no?”) The result of this unconfirmed partnership was two frustrated lovers who never truly loved.
You wonder why I wander off on this tangent. It is because of the rumour that circulated at the time of Jenn’s death, that she had actually committed suicide—dying of love. You see her death was due to her driving her sports car at high speed into a large tree. Now did she simply drift off behind the wheel? Was she distracted for a moment and lost control of the car? Did another car force her off the road? Did she purposely aim for the tree and just closed her eyes? Of course we will never know, but with the knowledge available, the conclusion of suicide is totally unfair and maybe even libelous—except that, I am informed, you can’t libel the dead.
What has this got to do with Josephine’s expression in this portrait? Maybe there’s a reflection of this horrific event as it tumbled about in her mind. On the other hand, maybe not. After all, Josephine did not share her twin sister’s admiration and devotion to virginity, and if she harboured a trace of guilt about her personal abandonment of the condition, it certainly never became a life or death matter.
Yes indeed, Josephine had a passionate lover who swept her off her feet some two year ago and had kept her airborne ever since. They had met on the sailing yacht of a mutual friend (sea experiences seems to stimulate romance) and within two weeks she had given herself without reservations and with marked fervour into his eager arms. She was firmly convinced that he would propose marriage which she would quickly accept, but it just hadn’t happened… yet. Maybe tomorrow, for they were meeting most every day now.
He, on his hand, was overwhelmed that such an attractive woman would fall so quickly for a middle aged man who had been spurned by other woman on at least two previous occasions… no three! Like many men, he had assumed that it would be a short term romance but each day opened up another day of revelations and bliss and so it went and went and went and went. He considered proposing marriage but was deathly afraid of blowing the whole thing out of the water.
So the two of them were joined together in gossamer strands while the gold bands lay idle in the jeweler’s window. Shame, but there you are.
Of course, the real question was whether all these thoughts were going through Josephine’s mind as she sat, or rather stood for Andrew Sookrah, while he painted this portrait? And another thought, we really can’t call her Josephine at this point in our meanderings, as that is only her portrait name. Whereas, if she was having these kinds of thoughts tumbling about in her mind, then it would be she as a real person having a real thoughts and not as an actor scripted by my imagination. There seems to be no other way to find out but to ask her.
So as I sat at my desk this afternoon, I looked up at the portrait and called out softly, “Hello Miss.” I had to call her “Miss” because I didn’t know her name. And Miss seemed safer than Ms. which conjures up all sorts other things better omitted at this point.
She didn’t budge, so I called a shade louder, “Miss!”
“What are you bleating about? You wanna another beer… Sir?”
“Do you mind me asking, what is your name?”
“My name. Hmmm. You coming on or somethin’?”
“Oh heavens, no. I just have a personal question to ask and I thought it would be better if I addressed you by name.”
“My name’s Josephine but most people call me Josie.”
“Oh, God!”
“What’s wrong with my name,” she asked petulantly.
“Oh, nothing’s wrong with it. It’s just… well it’s a long story. Let’s get back to the subject. OK, Josephine, do you remember some years ago when Andrew Sookrah painted your portrait?”
“I remember. So what about it?”
“You had an enigmatic smile. Most provocative. It set my mind racing as to what you could be thinking.”
“So what are you thinking,” she asked, obviously troubled.
“Well that really doesn’t matter. It’s what YOU were thinking that matters.”
“Well, lemme see if I can remember… You see, this club member was at the bar. So he orders a draft Creemore Ale and I see him looking at me like sort of studying me, and he says, ‘You know, I’d love to paint your portrait.’”
“Well, see, like that’s sort of a compliment, I think. So we talk about it and he tells me to stand like I’m pulling a draft beer. Then he says to me “I want you to focus on somethin’ and keep lookin’ at it. Don’t move tell I tell you.”
“So there’s this paint smudge on the wall. Funny shape. Looks like a giraffe. So I like stare at this and he starts rushing around with a big brush on a piece of paper or somethin’. And I just like stare straight ahead. All the time.”
“Well, that does explain a lot of things. But what about that enigmatic smile. You must have been thinking something pretty deep and important. I can see it was taking your complete interest. You were focused on something very vital to you, I feel sure. Did you have a twin sister named Jennifer who died in a car crash?”
She looked at me with amazement. “Whatever gave you that crazy idea. Look, I’m an only child, see. No twin sis.. dead or alive.”
“So what was in your mind at the time? Something mighty important I suspect.”
“Nah. Just the smear on the wall. That’s all I was thinkin’ about. Looked like a giraffe.”
So much for dreams!

10 Responses to “The Barmaid: a Painting by Andrew Sookrah”

  1. How did you get into my head Mr Henderson! I hardly knew you were there, yet you rummaged around and dusted off some old thoughts, explorations and brush strokes. You even visited my interview with Marge of the Manfrotta tripod formed by the shadow of a giraffe… how did you do that….

  2. Joan Bosworth says:

    A lovely story, Lyman. I really like your idea of weaving a story around some of your most loved art collection. Posting the artwork photo beside the story makes it very real to the reader.

    Keep up your writing…I hope to see you and your art collection at Bradgate Arms soon!

  3. Joy MacFadyen says:

    I know Andrew Sookrah quite well, Lyman, he has demonstrated figure painting at our Art Guild on a number of occasions. As you mentioned, he is a fine painter and your conversations with his model have intrigued me no end. I’m glad he read the story. With your art collection as a source of inspiration I think we can anticipate many more of them.

  4. Silvana Ness says:

    What a great “twist” indeed of a fervid imagination,Lyman!

    You had built her up as a kind of a Muse so it was a bit of a letdown to find her very much down to earth.

    Something like the two sides of a coin.

    A great idea to let yourself be inspired by your art collection.

  5. Fran Deacon says:

    What a charming Romantic you are Lyman but with her portrait also seen, my
    interpretation was of a Woman who knew
    NO romance…just the drudgery of hard
    work and was grateful that her day was
    soon coming to an end. She may have also
    been hoping that she would be paid a few
    dollars…to stretch her pay cheque,as there is yearning in her gaze.

  6. David Giles says:

    I love the way you build up a fascinating multi-leveled fictional story and then put it all into perspective with another simplistic one. Totally turning around the belief that truth is stranger than fiction. A good illustration of how we build up in our minds a story from our perceptions only to have the truth shatter the images. It makes one wonder about years of speculation on Mona Lisa’s smile only to find out Leonardo had simply said she reminded him of his mother.

  7. Rose says:

    You once again have made my day Lyman. Andrew Sookrah is that rare and unique combination of a true supportive & talented artist, wonderful sincere honest human being and a person who understands the human spirit. He can see through the soul of the model. Few really can. I am so glad you choose his painting as the beginning of expressing yourself in words this time.

    Keep them coming Lyman, with much support always from me. this time you touched my heart and made me smile for both you and Andrew.

    xo Rosie

  8. jack wilson says:

    very interesting remember me

  9. Toni Henderson & Frank Cox says:

    Frank and I just read the story (we are a bit behind) and echo Fran’s thoughts about a women doing a hard job in a hard life and trying to make it all work. But we loved the romantic fantasy you took us on, and brought us back from to the mundane reality of a smudge on a wall. How lovely that the artist and those who know him have posted here and shared their thoughts. I wonder if the real Josephine has visited the story? What would she say?

  10. Gordon Fulton says:

    What a wonderful story teller you are Lyman.
    I’m always touched by you in some way each time we meet. I look forward to reading more of these. thanks for telling me about your blog. It’s the 1st one I have ever read. I also am an admirer of Andrew Sookrah as a person and artist.

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