It was an odd day that started with one man accusing another of racial abuse in public, and then with me buying a drawing.
Near to where I live is the home of an artist. He is moustached, walks rather like a panther about to pounce, and is of distinguished demeanour.
We have known each other for almost twenty years, buying our daily newspaper early each morning from a local Indian-run shop.
For a long time I was unable to discover what he did in life. Being of retirement age, he would, unpaid, help the ailing lady owner of the shop to move the heavy pile of papers each day. Even she was unaware of his profession. Then one day I discovered that he was an artist. So we could then talk about current exhibitions, about all of which he visited.
At one time he even told me his name – which I forgot – even though no forename was attached to it.
Refusing all invitations to come to my place for social drinks, he actually agreed to a visit, but only to look at my eclectic mix of pictures. This allowed me to go to his place to look at his works of art – only his, as he said that he had never had the money spare to buy other people’s work.
What I saw in his house was a most wondrous collection of 1950s drawings, and walls full of his abstract paintings – colourful, delicate and delightful. They were quite obviously of a highly professional standard.
I dearly wanted to acquire something of his – anything, for both friendship and artistic reasons. But, no.
The man was quite obviously a recluse, a hermit – creative hermit. And he was also quite obviously ill at ease with the company of fellow humans. He lived in an artistic envelope – sealed to the outside world.
Slowly I got to know a little of his past.
He mentioned that in the 1950s, when the angry young men of the theatre were much in vogue, a journalist on The Daily Telegraph dubbed him “the angry young artist”. So he must, at one time, have been well known.
He related that he had indeed been a contrary kind of person, an early attitude to life and art that he had come to regret. I learned more.
Offered a place at the Slade School of Art, he didn’t like his interviewers and declined to attend. They begged him to paint there, but to no avail.
Although exhibiting at the Zwemmer Gallery, The London Group, Gallery 1 and others, he declined to have a one-man show at the prestigious Rowland, Browse and Delbanco Gallery, in Cork Street. “Cold feet”, he said.
Now, in his 70s he wishes that he had not fought, but embraced the artistic establishment in his rebellious youth.
And at last I discovered his Greek name – LAOUTARIS. He was born in Egypt.
Well, we met once more at a Hammersmith bus stop, where the afore- mentioned abuse took place. We were unable to board the 27 bus as a passenger was blocking the entry and, on his mobile telephone, was trying to interest the police in taking action against the bus driver who had racially abused him. The interesting part of this contretemps was that both aggrieved passenger and driver were black.
So Laoutaris and I talked once more, the outcome being that he invited me into his house to choose a drawing. There were many framed drawings lining the walls of his staircase, one of which I could buy, but with his right of veto. I suggested one of three and he told which one I could have. Money changed hands and I made off with my prize.
I was delighted with the drawing and wanted, as is my custom for those who might acquire the work in years to come, to write on the back of the frame a little about the artist and his life. I roughed out something and put it through his door for amendment.
It had been a wonderful day for me, but that was not the end of it.
Margreet and I decided to hang the drawing where another was hanging close to a rack of wine bottles – one lying on top of the other. In unhooking the incumbent drawing in its frame, my elbow, or some part of me, nudged a bottle beneath others. The bottles, being of slightly different shapes began to slide. And down came one to smash on the tiled floor beneath, and then another – and so forth.
The floor beneath became awash with wine and covered with shards of broken glass. But both the old drawing and the new one by Laoutaris remained dry, safe, and with glass unbroken.
Laoutaris amended my little history of him and this was stuck to the back of the frame.
Now he had actually sold something and been paid for it. It was, in a way, just a little recognition. But surely much greater, and public, recognition should come his way in his lifetime. And what if he died unrecognised for his years of insular creation? His executors might have difficulty in dealing satisfactorily with his considerable artistic estate. He should be a part of the history of English (and Greek) 20th to 21st century art.
I put these ideas to Laoutaris. Reluctantly, I felt, he agreed, and I managed to get a Christie’s man to appraise the paintings. The expert on English 20th century art’s reaction was like mine, so he offered part of a Christie’s sale catalogue with history, description and paintings, or even one single painting for sale, to get his name known and on record.
But there was a snag. Laoutaris’s daughter refuses to allow her father to sell anything. She was furious that a drawing had been sold to me.
So that is where the matter rests.