The Rebel got a cow. It was borrowed, for modeling, promise to pay when the celebrity’s paintings were sold. The Rebel was finding it easy to borrow during this time of adulation in the quarter.
It was a job, getting Ermyntrude up several flights of stairs not designed for the movement of cows, but most of the neighbourhood assisted amiably and the operation was conducted without mishap during a strategic moment when Madame Laurant was out shopping at the local épicerie. When it was concluded it is true that opinion ran high on the problem of ever getting Ermyntrude to face those steep stairs for a return passage, but the Rebel paid no heed to pessimism. Live for today; all the tomorrows couldn’t be worse than those that had started with the 8.32 to London Bridge.
The Rebel was keeping up with the Smiths, and gaining further prestige thereby. Besides it was rather nice to have a cow in one’s bedroom. Homely things, cows. Every home ought to have one. With a cow in one’s home Air Wicks were superﬂuous.
He loved his cow and when he worked he talked to her and she was a good cow and listened most intently and only occasionally spoke back.
But the Rebel had other artistic ideas sparked off by his visit to Chez Existentialism. An action canvas. That was the ticket. If they wanted action he was the boyo to give it them. Anything they could do, Suburbia could do better.
He made his plans carefully, but one day he was ready and then, shoving Ermyntrude into Paul’s side of the room—choosing a time when Paul was out gathering more consoling green lipstick—he got down to work.
He stripped—that was an essential. Then he put on a pair of old pyjamas that were expendable. Over these he drew on oilskins, donned a sou’-wester, and drew on a pair of gumboots. They were the preliminaries.
The operation proper began when he laid down an 18 x 12 canvas on the ﬂoor. It was eighteen feet, not eighteen inches in length. . . .
He had two tins of paint. One was park-seat green, and the other a ﬁre station red. He took off the lids and turned the tins upside down on the canvas and let them run riot as far as they would go. He had some part-ﬁlled tins, and these he emptied, regardless of colour, into a bucket and mixed them thoroughly. Then he got a long handled squeegee mop, slung the bucket of paint on top of the other mess and began vigorously squeegeeing.
That was the undercoat.
When he was satisﬁed with the curious colour pattern, he walked across the canvas leaving the tread of his gum boots behind him. It was rather an enjoyable feeling, the way his boot soles stuck into the paint and made a sucking sound as he dragged them out, so he went back for an encore. This time he did a samba. The shuffle produced some rather fascinating effects. A tango wasn’t half as good, and anything as old as a veleta was strictly for the birds in result. The palais glide might have been effective but he was handicapped by the absence of possible genuflecting partners. Ermyntrude would not know the steps, of course.
A rash admirer had lent him a bicycle. After some preparation he mounted and began to ride round and round the canvas, leaving great loops of tyre marks behind him. As he rode he opened tubes of paint and squeezed them out in long vivid streaks of colour. A few minutes of this and he was satisﬁed. The patterns he was getting were nobody’s business. Some action painting, this one.
A gardening rake helped to ﬁne out some deﬁciences, and a ﬂit gun spraying paint smoothed off a few awkward patches. And then he seduced Ermyntrude with a bunch of hay and got her to walk across the canvas.
The result was delightful. This action canvas was as active as any he had ever seen anywhere. When he showed his masterpiece viewers would be overwhelmed.
With a ﬂourish he signed it in a corner: didn’t matter which corner, the advantage of an action painting was that it was right way up whichever way it was hung.
Then he sat down, exhausted, to recover from his exertions.
Paul, fortunately, did not return until much later that day, so that by this time the studio was cleared up and the action painting framed and propped against the wall of the passage outside. It made the wet paint run a bit, but that showed the painting was active and the Rebel did not worry unduly.
Alan Holmes, The Rebel,1961
Image: The artist at work in Paris’s Montparnasse: Tony Hancock gets interesting effects without brushes. Tony Hancock, in the film, The Rebel,1960, directed by Robert Day, Associated British / Warner-Pathé, 105mins. (Released as Call Me Genius! in the US)
The comic story appears to be an opportunist publication based on the screenplay by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson for The Rebel. Tony Hancock leaves the conformity of suburbia and routine office life at UITCAL (United International Transatlantic Consolidated Amalgamation Ltd.) and the daily commute on the 8.32 to the City to become an artist in Bohemian Paris. In his East Cheam lodging, the Rebel makes a sculpture, Aphrodite at the Water Hole, and paintings in the style of Picasso are given absurd titles: Sunset Over Suburbia Reservoir; The Chain Puller’s Left Tibia. In Paris, Tony Hancock, as The Rebel, in smock and beret, adopts a pantomime approach to the idea of the artist genius with set pieces including the invention of the Infantile School and Shapist movement, an Existentialist vernissage with long haired poets, and girls with green and and orange hair. The Rebel’s Action Paintings: Exhaust Fumes on a Wet Thursday Night; and Sodium Light on a Left Buttock, caricature the paintings of Jackson Pollock and the performances of Yves Klein Anthropométrie de l’époque blue, 1960.