12 August 2013

Cloud(s) nine

My late friend, Nicki (pictured right), was a talented artist, who loved to paint landscapes, clouds and trees. When one of her beloved cats died, she resolved to produce one cloud painting every week for a year, in her memory.
Photo: Jan Price

When Nicki herself died, after a long battle with cancer, she left me the unexpected legacy of nine of these foot-square canvasses. She had put this particular set up in her living room and I decided to hang them in mine in the same 3 by 3 configuration.

My OCD turned this into a major challenge.

Obviously, I couldn't settle for anything less than evenly spaced, and straight, rows and columns, so splashed out on a two-foot long spirit level. Armed with this, a hammer, nails, pencil, rubber, reusable tack and sheets of blank paper, I set to - already stressed by my flat being a 'mess' of tools and bubble-wrapped paintings.

There was another OCD hurdle to clear first, though. 

I planned to put the paintings above my coffee table and had to move it out of the way to reach the wall. If you're a regular reader, you'll know how difficult I find it to move things out of their usual position. Not only had I now added out-of-place furniture and ornaments to the chaos, but I faced the daunting task of putting them back correctly afterwards. 

Next, I had to decide on the general position of the paintings, which took nine sheets of paper, a wad of tack and several attempts. Key was that they should be centred to the coffee table...which was now on the other side of the room. I had to be guided, instead, by the marks its legs had left in the carpet. 

Then it was just a simple matter of deciding how far apart the pictures should be and measuring out accordingly from the centre one. Simple, except I had to calculate and recalculate this a dozen times - I didn't want to hammer nine nails into my pristine wall, only to have to move them and mutilate it even more.

Once I was sure of my sums, I began measuring up, down and sideways with the spirit level, marking the position of each nail in pencil. For every one, I checked, and re-checked, and checked again to ensure the bubble was dead centre in its tiny glass prison and that my measurements were accurate. No way were any pictures of mine going to be wonky or unevenly spaced. No siree.

At last, I was able to hang the frames. I put each one directly onto its nail, ensuring it was in the middle, to avoid the pictures tilting. Perfect.

I stepped back to admire my handiwork...and realised that the gaps between the pictures were all uneven. How on earth had that happened, after all my efforts?

I couldn't shift the paintings along the nails, to even up the gaps, as they'd just tip sideways, and, as my measuring seemed to be spot-on, I couldn't see how moving the actual nails would help, either. 

The only solution was to slide the frames along the nails and then use tack on each corner to keep them straight.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
Paintings: Nicki Price

Believe me, I can see the irony in trying to impose symmetry on paintings representing clouds, which produce an infinite variety of patterns, no two ever the same. 

Whenever I see a beautiful cloud formation, I think of Nicki. Tomorrow is the 4th anniversary of her death, so I'm hoping for a special sky to celebrate an extraordinary friend.

* * *

PS I sent this post to Nicki's mum and sister for their approval before publication. Her sister came back with the following crucial information: 'The canvasses are all slightly different sizes and some slightly misshapen. You'd never have succeeded with a spirit level alone!!' Now she tells me...


helen said...

What a wonderful way for her to remember her cat and for you to remember your friend. Sad but beautiful.

Ambi said...

Oh wow, they look very impressive.
I must now go and realign all the pictures in my house just to make sure.

Not telling you that they are of varying size beforehand seems like absolute torture to me! You coped well.

Helen Barbour said...


Thank you for your comment. The paintings make for a really impressive focal point in my living room and are a lovely reminder of Nicki.

Helen Barbour said...


Nicki's sister didn't know about my obsessive-compulsive behaviour until she started reading my blog recently - I'm sure she'd have warned me about the paintings, otherwise!

I would lend you my spirit level, but as you're in New Zealand, that may prove a little impractical...