The New End Gallery was quite smart, quite London, Alex thought for a provincial town. It was bleached and modern, with one bare brick wall revealing the seventeenth century origins of the main building. As she entered, Helen spotted her and rushed over, hands ready to grasp hers. Helen was really Caroline’s friend, but they had met many times at various dinners and lunches.
“Alex, you came! It’s so good of you! Let me get you a drink,” Helen said, taking her towards the back of the gallery where a table was set with platters of snacks and a slim girl, probably a student from the local art college, was holding a tray of full glasses. Alex took a glass of elderflower presse, as she was driving and also did not intend staying very long.
Helen guided her around the displays, pointing out various works and their creators. “But I want to see your pictures,” Alex said. “That’s what I’ve really come for, you know how much I like your work.”
They stopped in front of a group of still life paintings. One was in the style familiar to Alex, depicting a large pot of yellow daisies, shining with the sun, an open window behind them. The others were rougher, darker, cruder almost, presenting platters of grainy bread, pitted vegetables and leeks so green and muddy you could almost smell their pungent scent.
Alex was stunned. “Oh, these paintings are nothing like the ones you’ve done before.”
“I know,” Helen said, smiling. “I’m quite pleased with them. It’s a completely new direction for me. The most wonderful artist has been acting as my mentor, well to all of us really, and she suggested I should develop a new approach. I mean I’ve had mentors before, we all do in the Guild, but this time I really feel I’ve found something different, more meaningful. What do you think?”
Alex was unsure how to comment, without sounding critical. She liked the old soft style and already had a couple of Helen’s flower paintings at home. “Well it certainly makes a change. Do you think they will be popular?”
“You mean will they sell? Actually so far they seem to be going rather well, but that’s not really important to me. I just want to feel that my painting matters and Mary says my art should be like a voice from the soul.” Helen gazed at her paintings, regarding her work with a look of satisfaction.
“Mary? That wouldn’t be Mary Reid by any chance, would it?”
Helen looked up at Alex with bright, eager eyes. “Yes, that’s right. Do you know her?”
“I’ve met her briefly. She seems to be everywhere at the moment.”
“She’s wonderful Alex, in fact she’s here right now. Mary! Over here!” Helen called to the tall figure Alex was beginning to think was shadowing her and intruding into every corner of her life. “Mary, this is Alex Wilson. I believe you two may have met before. And Alex is one of my best customers,” Helen laughed. “Or should I say patrons!”
to be continued March 17