The Artist Confided That He Knew a Girl Who Used to Paint Boring Pictures of Boats. Then She Reinvented Herself, Got Schmoozing and Now Sells Dirty Knickers to Charles Saatchi. (Diary)

By Holden, Wendy | New Statesman (1996), June 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Artist Confided That He Knew a Girl Who Used to Paint Boring Pictures of Boats. Then She Reinvented Herself, Got Schmoozing and Now Sells Dirty Knickers to Charles Saatchi. (Diary)


Holden, Wendy, New Statesman (1996)


Now our baby, Andrew, is old enough to be sat, life is beginning to return to normal. Last week, we went out to our first dinner party for what seemed like years. It was held in one of those tall Notting Hill houses with a dining-room in the basement whose table groaned with cut crystal and silver jugs for holding bottles. The talk, too, was textbook perfect: on one side was an editor who knew Valerie Eliot and Frieda Hughes; on my other side was an artist who was leaving London for the West Country. He had, he said, been toying with the idea for ages until, a mere few days earlier, something happened to harden his resolve. "What?" I asked. "A nutter hit me in the face at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road. There I was, with blood streaming down my nose and my two daughters standing beside me, crying. And what happened? A crowd of about a hundred people gathered round me - and lust stared. I shouted: 'Someone get that man! He's mad and he'll do it to someone else!' But no one said anything or moved. I thought : 'Bloody hell, time to get out of here.'"

Talk then turned to art and the meaning of. I told him about my idea for the Turner Prize. "Imagine a pentangle on the floor," I said. "In it is an inter-city train seat. And sitting in that train seat is a business executive in a bad suit talking in loud, nasal tones into his mobile phone. 'I hear what you're saying!' he keeps repeating, and 'I'm not entirely convinced Accounts are singing from the same hymn sheet.'" This notion was born of endless train journeys with just such a person sitting a few seats away and was, I thought, the essence of genius. "Everyone will identify with it!" I said. The artist shook his head pityingly. "Yes, but they won't get to see it. To win the Turner Prize you need to schmooze three top curators, three top galleries and three top art critics. Once you've done that, the idea can be anything. I used to know an artist who just did boring paintings of boats and then she reinvented herself, got schmoozing and now sells dirty knickers to Charles Saatchi."

I hate shopping: crowded streets, heaving stores and "helpful" sales assistants. Last week, however, with Andrew's christening looming, I hit the West End filled with the leaden foreboding reminiscent of the pre-Agincourt scenes in Henry V. After hours of sifting through expensive boutiques, I finally found a perfect little white silk suit at - where else? - John Lewis. The best bit about the suit was the size label - 12. I haven't been a size 12 for well over a decade; since Andrew's birth in December, however, I have lost more than a stone. The secret of successful slimming, I have discovered, has nothing to do with Hay or Atkins and everything to do with Heinz. …

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