Deckhand With Mop is a large nautical portrait, done in emulsion, by the Royal Academician Chamfer Ticktape. Apart from the vast swathes of brightly-coloured emulsion with which it was executed, the notable feature of the painting is the hideous countenance of the deckhand – a countenance so hideous that none can look upon it without, in an instant, becoming gibberingly insane. In this respect, the painting is akin to some fatuous melodramatic incident in a story by H P Lovecraft. Yet the effect of that hideous deckhand’s countenance is, regrettably, all too real, as a brief visit to the locked ward of the grim bleak windswept granite asylum, perched on the hillside, makes clear. There one will find, gibbering and insane, a gaggle of art critics and newspaper hacks who were present at the painting’s unveiling.
But what of Chamfer Ticktape himself? How did he paint, in swathes of brightly-coloured emulsion, the hideous countenance of the deckhand, without himself succumbing to gibbering, and to insanity? For years, the noted Royal Academician has refused to speak of his painting, referring all enquiries to his PR toady, a master of obfuscatory fol-de-rol. At various times, this slippery fellow has hinted either that the artist was blindfolded as he painted, or that his brain was protected by a mysterious carapace, or that he prepared a “painting-by-numbers” grid and directed the execution from behind a screen, his assistants then being carted off one by one to the very same grim bleak windswept granite asylum, perched on the hillside, where they are kept in a separate wing, also locked, in which they gibber insanely while sucking on wafers. Not one of these tales is likely to be true. Some say the deckhand is a self-portrait of the painter, but how could that be? Chamfer Ticktape is a man-about-town, sweeping in and out of fashionable restaurants and nightspots, in cape and muffler, pursued by paparazzi, and he does not leave in his wake a trail of the gibbering and insane.
My own theory is that, when viewing this gigantic painting, done in emulsion, one must keep one’s eyes fixed steadily on the mop, the mop, the mop!