Sarah HallUKWriting2007
Excerpt from 'Bottles' - Novel in Progress

There has been no letter from my friend Peter this week. I have been spoiled to hear from him so frequently and I confess to a deep disappointment. I think of him often. I wonder how he progresses with his studies and his painting. I wonder what delights him and what troubles him. What are his current philosophies? Which sculptors and colourists does he admire? And how will he articulate these influences?


He must visit the national gallery in London. He must see the glazed earthenware and pewter, the wet fish-scales and gold-ringed eyes of Velázquez. He must see the liquid still pooled in the sockets. He must see these paintings not to interpret utensils or religion or any such thing. Not for the adroit symbolism of Vanitas, nor to unravel the elegant paradox of title. He must first see how every surface and texture speaks of life, and offers the viewer its own purest sensitivity. Yes. Peter must feel the temperature of the bream, the death-shroud of seas over it, and the crackling of garlic skin as it is peeled. He must hear the sound of grinding in the kitchen mortar. And he must see the dragonfly of van Os – arrested – its transparent wings, its essence of flight. In America he must see Cotán’s apples, suspended, their stalks tied delicately with string. The melon seeds slipping from the rind. The replete dampness of these atoms. He must recognise the geometry, the artifice and the reality.


I would present him with the timeless gifts of the Nature Morte. Still Even with citrons and walnuts. Still Life with lobster, the serration of claws. Still Life with parrot, and fruits out of season. Still Life with cloves, chilli, eggs, hare, dead birds, dew-drops, and rose. With asparagus, coins, straw skull, wicker, terracotta vase. Still Life with drinking horn.


Only then will he begin to understand living art.