Dennis Potter, Plum Blossom and Inspiration


I borrow and steal influences from everywhere, sifting and filing them in my head for later use: a newspaper photograph of a tornado tearing across Kansas, a painting by Remedios Varo, a haunting passage in a book, a magical poem, the sound of the wind in the eaves, a damning article on child brides, something my mother said, the unbidden idea that swallows could be evil - these random fragments feed my imagination and filter into my work; inspiration is found in the strangest places - you never know what will snap its fingers and make a connection. 

On the cusp of another typically English Spring, I was rummaging through teetering piles of dusty old papers, keen to clear some space for the imminent arrival of that very particular watery April sunshine, the kind that so cruelly illuminates the household neglect that Winter's bleaker months encourage.  As a small tower of postcards and letters, pamphlets and magazine clippings slid sideways towards the floor I spotted a wafer-thin, well-thumbed booklet which contained the last ever interview given by Dennis Potter to Melvyn Bragg - on March 15th 1994.

The memories of that interview are immensely strong even now, Potter wreathed in cobalt blue smoke from his awful, beloved cigarettes. And, forever, "the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom" will be the words which light up the last days of Winter when the sap is rising and there is feverish hope in the air. In his last weeks he said he no longer just saw blossom - it was now the very best blossom he had ever seen.  I often take a moment and remember his last-minute greed for Earth's bounty and really pay attention to things I might otherwise merely glance at.   

I will always remember the sound of Dennis Potter's voice, with its soft green overtones from The Forest of Dean and dry rasp from decades of smoking: lyrical and lilting and somehow deeply reassuring.  There was aching darkness in his work, palpable pain, beauty and truth and great heart. Not, of course, to everyone's taste especially at the time, but, once seen, the sight of the adult children in "Blue Remembered Hills" is never to be forgotten.  

Thirty years ago I stood in front of Edvard Munch's painting of his dying sister, "The Sick Child", at the Tate Gallery...shedding tears like a fool.  He had carved his helpless despair into the canvas, gouging the paint with the hilt of his brush, and in those violent scarring marks we cannot help but feel a connection.  And then our eye is inevitably drawn to the angelic young face against the white pillow: she is already disappearing into the light.

That's what a painting should be - hard to forget.