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Edinburgh: Polygon / Edinburgh University Press, 2002.
£8.99, 210 pages, ISBN 0-7486-6321-5.
Université de Rouen
Ask anyone in Cassis and they will tell you. The artists widow, the
piano teacher, the écossaise.(1) The voice behind the words,
trying to suggest, to evoke, to paint impressions with sound (21),
telling the compelling story of Eilidh and Colin Brogan, half-Scots and
half-French, a voice [...] wanting to make itself heard,
at last. (27)
Colin Brogan is dead. He entered the kingdom of past things (206)
where the visible merely masks the invisible (131) when he finally
reached the point at which differences and distinctions are ironed out (135),
penetrating the sacred vaults and caves beneath the seas mirror. Eilidh
has been asked to tell the story of her now famous husband, to account for
the circumstances in which his paintings were born, to trace the genesis of
creation. What she finds herself writing is in fact her own biography, putting
together the threads of a fragmented existence, revisiting her husbands
paintings for traces of her successive selves, until she discovers that what
he actually did was progressively paint her out of them. And she leads the
reader on from picture to picture, vanishing from strokes and hues, first a
then a presence, last mere cheating light. From subject to object to nothingness,
she gains being as she disappears from the scene, retreating into the landscape,
merging with the surrounding elements and colours, as she once did with water,
the element of her indetermination. A crossbreed of Orpheus and Eurydice.
water I occupy again my three dimensions. I move free and unencumbered, with
nothing to hold me. I am. Im not anyone in particular, only
a register of sensations. I dont have to prove or disprove anything.
From second to second I change: I change shape, temperature, colour. I AM
suddenly realizes that in painting her Colin managed to make
light like a prism and that he practise[d] his skills in depicting
light by using [her] naked body as a neutral conduit. (137)
She is the vehicle in the pictorial metaphorisation of inaccessible
light, that light each on his own had fled Scotland to
find out, for there must be
something in the sombre Scottish stone, in the overcast weather, in the consciousness
of living on the damp outer ring of the continent. It all enters into the soul,
and darkens it, compresses it. The short summer gone, or in the long anticipation
of it, youre left aching for the sun, for some little light in all the
greyness.(53) Eilidh thus writes the story of the alternative person she
could have been, the negation of whatever [she] was expected to be(54),
surrounded by mirrors that reflect the social self at the surface of the world
and hide that inner being whose truth art alone can help her discover.
Page after page she builds up an identity as the narrator of a voyage into
herself, meandering along the deep valleys and vertiginous gorges of her
remembering, collecting, organising, eventually finding meaning. In the picture
gallery of the past, she unveils and analyses unfinished tableaux that speak
of treason, deception and treachery. An impossible model, she escapes reproduction:
she never belongs; she lives in the margin, suspended in the space between
events, permanently on the edge of individualisation. She lives life by proxy,
duplicity, fleeing to find her self all the more secluded.
Her schizophrenic writing feeds on opposites, points and counterpoints, halving
the ten chapters composing the story into two mirroring blocks of identities,
the Scottish Girl with the Flaxen Hair, forever lost, vs. the Missing
Person yet to be found. The light and fluidity Colin spent his life trying
to paint are also the object of Eilidhs aesthetic quest beneath the
clever surface of the music, into the driving currents [...] And, by way of a
submerged cathedral, to the island of happiness itself. (24)
Eilidh: a name, a frame, a shame, permanently violated by an
insatiate desire for a right to be herself and no amalgam
of her sisters, for individuation
and yet, for recognition. Walking the tight rope of impossible heredity,
a funambulist of loss, in search of emotional balance, of physical fulfilment,
pregnant with unredeemable emptiness.
In Permanent Violet, Ronald Frame gives a voice to the unspeakable,
he moulds matter into shape and sculpts the ineffable thus ultimately
the surface the unconquerable quality and spirit of the unsaid. In describing
the peregrinations of two artists towards the ultimate creation, he manages
to unite the aesthetics of the literary, the artistic and the musical.
of the painter and the musician lead them downwards, from Scotland, the
land of tradition and of the first revelations, the home of personal
down to the Riviera and its intricate deep purple coastal shores. Like
one of Graham
Swifts characters, Colin Brogan is gradually learning to swim and
to disentangle himself from the tentacles of contingency reality constantly
throws at him. His paintings acquire that translucent character that reaches
the surface of things, catching the light and playing with it until it becomes
movement, character, feeling, relating more and more intensely to it until
it finally compels all other relationships to retreat in the caves of accepted
The search for personal expression travels from metaphor to symbol:
from the waters of Black Pool to the watercolours the brush
spreads on canvas,
to the ultimate permanent violet of the artists final vision, elements
merge, opposites find resolution, surface meets depth, body reaches soul. Meanwhile,
Scotland is the permanent colour that sheds light and hue onto new experiments
in artistic creation. It is and remains. It exists in the mind, a frame, a
a mode of apprehension of the exterior world, a well of inspiration solidified
into castles, structures, statues, stains, streets, shores and signs.
Against the steadfast wall of Scottish mores, there break the waves
uncertainties, of Eilidhs erratic tidal desires, encounters, and secret
sins, the spume of her mothers betrayal, riding the surf of untold stories;
against the reassuring fortress of Scotland, the brittle mirrors of furnished
rooms, the shattered reflections of past selves, the improbable outlines of characters
craving more flesh and existence across the waters or in afternoon hotel rooms.
However the past is no key to the present in the timelessness of the artists
world. The past is engraved and entombed in each and everyone, as is the lovers
blood in the stones paving Scotlands memory. If the present is delivered
in snapshots, moments are framed like paintings, timeless, colourful, confusing
the senses synesthetic sensations into rainbow descriptions whose final
conjunction aims at discovering essence, via a permanent analysis and questioning
of its apparent spectrum.
In Permanent Violet, Frame has gone his own way, just like Colin
and Eilidh. The technique is that of the impressionist painter, giving
one stroke the
closer touch and the farther perspective that help the mind organise
the representation. But it is also that of the hyperrealist, describing
in short, abrupt,
concise sentences that leave little place for hypotactic expression.
Permanent Violet can finally be read as a homage to the kaleidoscope
of Scottish painting, and more specifically perhaps to the works of
the Colourists, reflecting
their spirit and their indomitable quest for a new expression, reviving
the poetic vistas opened up by their search for the unknown colour,
at discovering what words cant convey, what matter cant represent.
Beyond, ever more so.
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