London NW 10. February, 2013
I was having a long painting session in the studio. I'd not been out all day, maybe more. Tim wanted to have a smoke and walk the dog so he gives me a jacket and says come on out.
The wind was blowing and I put my collar up. I hadn't shaved. My hair long. And I limp.
As we turned the corner, under a lamplight, a young man on a bicycle veers near. I was startled and stared at him. The kid says, "What are you lookin' at, you golliwog?!”
I didn't know the word and Tim's explanation seemed vague.
Black middle-class son of a schoolteacher I am, I wanted a clear definition.
That evening after dinner I learned a lot about golliwogs.
In America, I hadn't heard of them. We had Sambo. We had Uncle Tom. Maybe there were characters called Fetch and Gettit?
I asked a lot of American friends my age, black and white and nope...no one had heard of golliwog.
But a teenager in Harlesden had.
There were two places I could take my new found friend.
I could leave him on the shelf unmoved and silent. Occasionally observed. Gathering dust. Almost quaint. A racist past stuck on jam jars.
Or, why not let him shake a leg?
In my abstract painting you'll see a shape, a color or a line repeated over and over creating a more or less dense veil covering the canvas.
So why not dust Mr. Golliwog off and let him dance around a painting with a happy face?
If I took a superficial caricature of a black person which came to be seen as a hurtful, racist to-be-forgotten image onto a neutral blank canvas and used it as a decorative element, what sentiments would it provoke?