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PART OF THE Inner Space ISSUE

‘Sometimes I wonder if I had known that it was going to take me fourteen years to paint this painting of the Crucifixion, and what it would take for me to paint it.’

In Iain Hood’s This Good Book, Susan Alison MacLeod first lays eyes on Douglas MacDougall at a party in 1988, resolving to put him on the cross in the Crucifixion painting she’s been sketching out. Her desire for authenticity means the painting doesn’t see light for 14 years; meanwhile, Douglas’ ever-more elaborately designed urine-filled plastic bags bring him more fame and accolades. A novel that spins the moral compass while playing with notions of the creation of art, you can read some below.


Extract taken from This Good Book
By Iain Hood
Published by Renard Press

 

Things were taking a lot longer to get together than I had thought they would and I wasn’t getting to know Douglas much better, even though this didn’t bother me the way, you know, some artists need to know the insides of their sitters, but that wasn’t going to be necessary for my Crucifixion. Creating art, and I mean specific art, you have to know what’s going to be necessary, this being the mother of invention and all that, you know? 

He was in his world with his Tollcross buddies and I was in Sandyford making preparations for painting my Crucifixion, what with buying materials and paints and nailing together canvases that were so huge I had to use huge nails to secure them. And the size of the hammer I had to buy! My God! And I’m only five foot nothing. Apart from the time I had let him come to the bakery studio to have a look around and the times we had visited galleries and stuff like that, we went on with our separate lives. I was experimenting with different backgrounds and thinking mibby about doing a Stanley Spencer by setting the Crucifixion on top of the Necropolis, but that was too obvious, or mibby doing a Billy Connolly by painting something called something like Christ Crucified upon the Tollcross, but really only because giving the painting this title appealed to me. 

Not me, but all of them, Isobel and Amanda and Marion and Anna, Jenny and Rona and Mairi, Katrina and Maureen and Alison and Bernice, Katy and Frances and Maria, Sharleen and Kate and Nikki and Shonagh and all of them at one time or another seemed to be in love with Douglas. 

And I suppose that’s why I was supposed to be in love with him and why I had made him my model for Christ on the cross, but it wasn’t that at all. In fact, I thought he was a stupit so and so. I mean, come on. Urine in bags? What was that? That was nothing. Nothing. Just some sensationalist nonsense with apparent meaning but no meaning manifest. One of my best tutor’s sayings was, and I suppose still is, ‘Art is meaning manifest.’ Douglas would talk of bodies and fluids and this and that. That was nothing. He had nothing. The tutor, my best tutor, would have seen right through him, all right. Miss Brodie, we called her. That wasn’t her name. She was actually called Jean Carmichael, but I think the ‘Jean’ and the way about her led to ‘Miss Brodie’. Anyway. But it has to be said, he was a good model, Douglas. He mostly knew how to pull this way and that way and take up the best version of this and that position. And he would be like, ‘Is this the way you want me?’ 

He was malleable is what I’m saying. And beautiful. So very beautiful. And Jesus needed to be beautiful, because if he’s not beautiful then what is he? Jesus as God had to be the most beautiful man and the perfection of man, because if he’s not that then what is he? Douglas was malleable and if he was not malleable to what I wanted him to be in my hands then what was he? What was he? 

But, you know, all of them loved him. Lived for the parties when they could be near him and find out what he was up to and what he was drinking and what he was saying. The time he cordoned off areas with some DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE tape at that party on Byres Road. (Where the hell does one find DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE tape? Fortuitously, on the way to a party appears to be the answer.) They wanted to know what he was doing and what it meant. ‘What does it mean?’ they asked. Just watching him cordon off. Cordoning off the living room. Oh Jesus, wasn’t this the best thing ever! So creative! So unusual! What a laugh! It was, actually. It was. You should have watched him do it and the look on his face. Beatific and angelic and mischievous and devilish! You could see their point. He was loveable in the act of cordoning. That takes talent. 

The Good Book by Iain Hood is published by Renard Press, priced £10.

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