Swirling carpets and bright, bold, patterned curtains, a candlewick bedspread and sky blue-painted walls. I recently came across this painting of my bedroom, from my ‘A’ Level artwork. It is dated 1979.
The folds in the curtains, the shadows, the patterns and colours must have caught my eye. I painted what I had access to and where I wouldn’t be bothered. Too cold to paint outside, I became more sensitive to the interior: and this is what I saw. I worked in oils – which took ages to dry. They were clearly not the right medium for detail – brushes too thick, paint too cloying. This is the result. I guess I did it for my portfolio, but really, I did it for me. It was about capturing it: looking, understanding, interpreting. It was never about the decor. It was about the losing myself in the process of painting: and for that I see its integrity and honesty. It may be somewhat clumsy in execution, but it is authentic and real.
This was an ordinary, very small bedroom, which I shared with my sister. 40 years later the painting speaks volumes: about where I lived, about my mother’s taste, about the ‘70’s. The lighting was bright and stark. Patterns clashed and there were many different shades of blue. Aesthetic decisions were based on what was available locally, what was in the shops, and what we could afford. Our design influences were more limited than today and interior design and home decorating were much more low-key. People were proud of their homes and kept them nice, but they did not show them off to the same extent. It was a time when many people still had big families. There were 8 of us, squeezed into 4 bedroom house. But these were very different times and people had no expectations for an en-suite, dressing room or even single occupancy rooms. A bedroom was somewhere to sleep, perhaps do homework, store books and clothes. We did not entertain our friends here and absolutely no-one had a TV in their room.
Decorating was about refreshing a room. It involved spring cleaning: re-organisation, re-evaluation and a whole lot of cleaning out. It was prompted by the need to lift a tired, old space – to give it some care and attention and a new ‘look’. On a small scale it might just be a new bedspread, or curtains, or carpet because once the colour of the walls – or carpet – was set everything else was chosen to match. Every bedroom in the house was considered separately, at different times when expenditure allowed, which meant that on the landing where each individual bedroom carpet met, the colours and patterns sometimes clashed. But that was the norm.
It’s hard to say how long the bedroom would have looked like this. It is a snapshot in time. I know from a later photograph that the curtains ended up in the kitchen. I assume not long after this we also replaced the blankets and bedspreads with a duvet. That was one big step to modernisation.
As we left home my parents would have had more space, more affluence and more opportunity to keep each room looking nice, or for ‘good’, or for visitors. We moved on but left much of our stuff behind. Our parents eventually got rid of most of it. There comes a point when you don’t need it, and there’s no point in keeping it.
I suspect I painted this painting all in one evening. It looks a bit rushed. I might have got a bit bored – or lost – somewhere within all those swirls. For some reason, this painting has survived as a record of a place and a time, and as something that I created. It is not a ‘treasure’ or a work of art, but for me it triggered deep memories of space, place, family and home. Until I saw this painting again I had not thought about this time, or this bedroom where I slept for so many years. I had forgotten about the decorative elements and colours of this space, but it all came flooding back. And it felt nice.