The story spans a day in November 2010, as the final preparations of a major retrospective of an aging painter are underway at Tate Modern. The private view; a jamboree of press, critics, celebrities and sponsors (even Tony Blair, a friend of the sponsor, is expected) takes place that evening, and the painter, Mateus Stefko, whose life has been blighted by war, secretly plans to make a citizen’s arrest. He becomes attached to a young art handler, Jerome, unaware of Jerome’s past in the care system, and who was helped into art school by Martha, a charismatic art therapist who had strong unconscious feelings for him. As Stefko and Jerome check the final hang, the paintings trigger Stefko’s memories:- pre-war Krakow, POW in the Soviet Union, cosmopolitan Beirut and eventual arrival in the UK. When they reach Untitled, a portrait of a partly dressed, masked woman, Stefko reflects on the intense relationship he had with its subject – Martha – whose hour by hour agonizing about whether to accept Stefko’s invitation to the opening is spliced into the unfolding story at Tate Modern. She hasn’t seen him for thirty years. Jerome’s story meanwhile is told in flashback, with the mysterious Martha at the heart of it. Neither Stefko nor Jerome know of her existence for the other until the denouement that evening in front of Untitled. This private drama is offset by a very public one, as Stefko waits and watches for his prey.
The novella is about how making art can deliver emotional salvation, as well as the relationships between the main characters, and how war has affected their lives. Dedicated to Stanislaw Frenkiel – 1918 – 2002 www.frenkielart.com. This is a fictionalised account of his life but the paintings described in the text and reproduced here are real. The tale will unfold week by week, through Stefko, Jerome, Martha and the paintings.
Mateus Stefko’s citizens’s arrest.
Tate Modern November 10th 2010.
Hannibal You Fool
Fool with the hat on.
What’s it like up there then?
Like it do you?
Is it thrilling?
To lay your flesh on the beast’s
Scaly grey hide.
Does it feel good?
A metaphysical experience; erotic I’m sure
Riding the earth
Girding the beast
Who knows more than you do.
Its curranty eyes
Knowing more – than you do
With your loose passions.
Look at you in your unacknowledged shame
Not yet spun to anger
Straddled on the enormity of your ambition
With its mass of grace
Crashing to the shore.
You can leave your hat on.
Mateus Stefko 2003.
Untitled: A Novella has been serialised in 18 parts on International Times