Art Appreciation

In a new book, acclaimed Irish authors choose a painting from the National Gallery and explain why it resonates with them. Here, Christine Dwyer Hickey remembers the day her passion for The Goose Girl was ignited

I came across the National Gallery quite by accident when I was about 13 during a long cold spell of school absenteeism. The British call this “playing truant”, and that was the term favoured by the head nun who finally snared me in the corner of her office, snarling and hissing like an angry cat until I broke down and confessed to everything. In those days adults never asked why – you were disobedient and you were a liar and that was that. And so I had “truant’” to add to the long list of my shortcomings.

A more popular term – the one most favoured by practitioners themselves – is “going on the hop” or even, “going on the bounce”. Jolly phrases both, implying many splendid things such as adventure and defiance but above all else, comradeship. There is risk, yes – but with the risk comes a certain euphoria. There are no giddier schoolgirls, than schoolgirls on the bounce.
The word mitching – at least, I have always felt – holds a slightly different meaning. A mitcher is someone who tends to go it alone and does so on a regular – even compulsive basis. The mitcher wanders through cold city streets, no one with whom to share pleasure or risk; to provide company in a café or to sit alongside on a park bench. Mitching is about trudging around waiting for the hours to pass. It’s also about loneliness and fear. Fear of being caught, fear of going to school. Sometimes even fear of going home. In my day I was a champion mitcher.

My parents knew plenty of painters and as a small child I had been in artists’ studios on several occasions. Harry Kernoff had painted a rather gruesome portrait of my mother. And there had been two artistic friends of my father both named Robert, who drank in McDaid’s and had a paint-splattered studio nearby, the air heavy with an exotic scent of oil and white spirits. At one point my father was even a part owner of a small gallery in Monkstown. But for some reason – and this seems strange to think now, I had never been into a gallery and I’m not sure I even knew what a gallery was.

This story appears in the October issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday November 6


On Our Radar

New York street fashion photographer BILL CUNNINGHAM is said to hate the 2010 documentary about him because he is now so well known that people stop him all the time as he moves around the city on his bicycle trying to do his job. Recently, he said, “I think the fashion world needs to come to grips with reality. The reality is you have the whole country electronically connected. They’re educating the insides of their heads, as they should, and not [dressing] the outside with a fancy hat or a dress. Simple clothes, that’s key, and I think that’s what the fashion world should really think about.”

This story appears in the October issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday November 6