Patience

Many of us live in well-loved homes which remind us of what we have done in our life. But perhaps we are now finding that we have had enough of our four walls. Our patience is wearing thin. So, what of this picture entitled Patience?

PJ Crook, Patience, 1983, The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum © the artist, reproduced with permission

This small painting demands our careful attention. Let’s pause and look closely. A woman sits alone at a card table playing patience. She is fully absorbed. The room is simply furnished and tells of an ordered life: the piano with open music and candled sconces tells of another solitary pursuit, a small bookcase likewise. Flowers and fruit are neatly arranged, even the ginger cat seems settled. Were she to look up she would see the wall clock, to measure time passing, or she might catch a glimpse of herself reflected in the wall mirror over the piano.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the paintings hanging on the walls are charged with significance – for there is nothing accidental here – I don’t think it is an ‘overread’ to see in the portraits that face us the woman’s younger self: with a sister perhaps and, in profile, with her husband. She is, after all, living with her memories. However, for me it is the third painting, which hangs behind her and is reflected in the mirror, which disturbs for it is a painting of the landscape glimpsed through the open door with topiary trees and well-tended privet. It is as though the outside has been brought indoors to be made part of this closed space.

So, is this simply a painting of peaceful contentment? Of the well-ordered life where even memories are fixed in place? Or is there something more? In Patience we discover a tension between contentment and containment, what is outside and what is within. A solitary card game, within an enclosed room, within a formal enclosed garden, bounded by sentry-straight trees that entirely screen the natural landscape beyond.

Within the quiet stillness and thoroughly domestic subject matter we discover an underlying tension: a life enclosed. And yet the door is open, it is a bright summer’s day. Perhaps it is time to find the courage to step outside.

A prayer

Lord, sometimes our orderly routines are not enough
and we feel ourselves drifting into boredom and frustration.
We feel hemmed in by circumstances
and are not sure what the outcome will be.
Show us the door in our life that is still open
and prepare us to take the risk
of walking into a fresh experience of the familiar.
Lord, we have to live with the cards we are dealt,
help us to make the most of what we have received
and trust you that everything will fall into place
in your good time.

And an afterthought

The keen eyed may have noticed something unsettling about this painting. And it’s all to do with the framing.

It is difficult to see in reproduced form – but it is just possible to discern that this panel is ‘framed’ three times over. Look at the moulded shaping that distorts the rug and the ceiling, the verticals that edge the clock and kink the wall by the door, the horizontals that parallel the curtain valance and distort the cat’s tail.

The artist, PJ Crook, has throughout her career sought to break free of the confines of the traditional frame, allowing her work to spill out; in this case multiplying the traditional moulded surround to articulate and underpin the narrative. So, our painting which explores this tension between contentment and containment is quite literally shaped and moulded; the boundaries are barely visible but will need to be traversed.

Michael Mays & Rev. John Rackley