Only two or three times in my life have I seen snow falling. The last time was when I lived at the base of the Heartbreak Hills – so called for the heartbreak the early settlers experienced when they attempted to farm the barren slopes.
One cold winter’s morning snow floated down whimsically as I drove up the hill to the university where I was doing the final year of a Visual Arts degree. Outside my studio it had collected in tiny drifts in the gutters. The studio was freezing so I went and stood in the rotunda to watch the spectacle instead of working. The enigmatic man who was either the love of my life or a case of mistaken identity joined me. Snow fell in delicate flurries and landed on the pines that marked the perimeter of the campus. Beyond them the Heartbreak Hills were transformed into a fantasy of tiered white mounds and indistinct dark shapes.
The art faculty was a weird place at the best of times – dreamers, fantasists and moody malcontents mused and brooded in its shadowy recesses. In the snow we drifted into the silent voids and white spaces of our own interior landscapes. Pretty girls danced past disguised as alpine damsels. The boys beside them were indistinct cyphers in their heavy hooded jackets. My grumpy supervisor appeared in a WW1 leather flying hat and thick fur lined gloves. ‘Living in a winter wonderland’ he sang as he skipped into his office. The enigmatic man beside me assumed a gallant, noble air as he escorted me to lunch in the cafeteria.
The day and the mood suited my purposes perfectly. The theme of the art I was making was hybridity and the way we in the West think our cultural roots go straight back to ancient Greek when, really, they can be traced to many sources. My theory work was going well but I was struggling to produce art that reflected this idea. In the transformation of the physical environment people around me slipped out of context and revealed hidden aspects of their personality. Soon after lunch the snow stopped falling and I went to my studio to paint.
The snow melted overnight. The next day everyone reverted back to form and we all got on with our final semester’s work. By the end of the year I had a body of work that supported my ideas and the enigmatic man had proved himself to be a case of mistaken identity.
Winter mountains –
swirling snow drifts
– certainties shift