Clive Bond has discovered Outside.
He has not been there yet. But he’s plotting.
The other day I came home from dropping someone off somewhere to see a face in the porch window which shouldn’t be there.
Clive’s dastardly tactic of bolting out of the front door into the little glass-paned porch to investigate bicycles and wellington boots and the gas meter had backfired on him.
He sat gazing out of the window like the kitten of Shalott. Moving through the window clear, shadows of the world appeared. This was wide-screen entertainment.
Because Outside is an aspiration.
It has moving things and swaying things and scuttering leaves to chase and car lights at which to gaze adoringly. Outside is where Clive Bond wants to be. He wants total domination of the small green, and its parked cars, and the discarded toys, and the lary magpies and the autumnal leaves of the silver birch.
And so he sits. And he waits. Through the glass, dimly, he can almost taste his future.
The window: as clear as day, yet still it sets its observer apart from the action.
Hitchcock used it in his Rear Window, where a press photographer witnesses a set of circumstances which must surely be a murder.
And then there is that chilling, mildewed window envisioned by Emily Bronte.
Do you remember the description? Mr Lockwood has been grudgingly granted an overnight stay, and a maid gives him a room he shouldn’t have. He looks for the bed and instead finds the strangest oak window seat; a couch next to the windowsill, a few mildewed books piled up in one corner, the ledge covered with writing scratched in the paint: ‘Catherine Earnshaw…Catherine Healthcliffe….Catherine Linton.’
And in a restless sleep he dreams-or is it reality – that some tree is tapping on the window. But when he reaches out through the window to silence it, it is not a tree but an ice-cold hand.
The hand will not let go, and someone outside the window wails “Let me in! Let me in!”
I have never forgotten the first time I read that passage. And its horror still takes me by force even now.
Occasionally, the pane of glass does not have to be there: the observed and the observer are in the same place.
Like portrait painters. Think of any portrait which captivates you: it was a two-way process when it happened, and it’s a two-way process now. Those solemn Cholmondeley sisters, the eerie Elizabethan twins who sit on the walls of the Tate museum: who was hired to paint them with their newborns, grave and strange? Whoever he was, you stand in his place.
It takes a cartoonist to make that strange relationship explicit.
I was leafing through the work of my favourite cartoonist in search of the people vacuum tube to Bengal for Sunday’s post. And what should I find but a most unusual group portrait.
It was painted by William Heath, the cartoonist who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century and founded a number of magazines – including The Northern Looking Glass.
It is called : Looking at an ass.
It betrays a story. The artist sets up his easel in a Victorian street and begins to paint. And everyone stops to watch. And, indeed, to ridicule.
There they are, looking at an ass, who caricatures each of his observers with the keenest of irony.
Who are the asses, really?
And so Clive the kitten observes from behind the glass a melée he has yet to join.
Looking at this rabble, he might be better off staying in the porch.