Gallery: Sarah Raphael by Daniel Day-Lewis |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Sarah Raphael by Daniel Day-Lewis

Sarah, twelve years old, a quicksilver urchin with black eyes that examine the world around her; grave, unflinching, mischievous; the light of a challenge in them. Long thin legs carry her here and there with great purpose.

One day as I stood in the quad, a marauding pack of young scruffs (maybe her age, although I remember them being very short) clambered like chimpanzees all over me, their sweaty little hands grasping and clawing. They swung, wriggled, hung upside down, the cloisters ringing with yelps and curses, as together, mob handed, gleefully, they tried to drag me to the ground.

To my astonishment a few weeks later I found that moment in paint, still wet on the wall of the art room; familiar as the pervasive mood of a dream half remembered, yet strange in its transformation. What was it? Legend? Myth? A barmy folkloric ritual? Something primitive and grand; noble and absurd. Something that belongs outside of memory and experience. An archetype in which one's self is lost but the origin of one's self is recognised. It was almost grotesque; hilarious, unsettling. Naïve yet startlingly sophisticated and full of affection. The image was illuminated, the unseen core a dark shaft, a secret of unfathomable depth with a whisper of warning. Christopher Cash, our sad, elegant, unforgettable teacher, found me transfixed, drinking at this mysterious well; 'she's a painter,' he said, his voice weighted with the recognition of that which can neither be questioned nor accounted for.

Twenty years later in her studio I watch her, her back to me, as she works. The distance between us is as vast as that between any observer and an artist preoccupied with the realisation of a truth. I feel boundless joy in my privileged exclusion. Yet there is no distance. I'm irradiated by spokes of light flung out from the nave of her spinning soul. It is hard not to shout for the happiness that I feel in her presence. Just as now, again and again, a cry of despair and bewilderment rises up in me to mourn and protest and obliterate the emptiness left by her senseless abduction.

She never could remember that painting she'd made as a child, and though the vision of it is as clear now in my eyes as on the day I'd stood in front of it, I'm not sure that it ever existed. It makes no difference.

I don't wish to share these things because they're ours, but what else can I offer? I would wish to leave myself out of this picture, to write solely about her, but once she entered into me the door swung to behind her, the partition turned to smoke and was gone.

The shock of her absence renews itself with each memory of her. The shock of her presence renews itself with each discovery of her glorious work. She is there inside of it. It is her. The purest distillation of a life of joy and anguish and seeking to understand and understanding. The courage, the humour. and the tenderness; the roar and the whisper. The harmony, the dissonance; revelation, intimation, lyricism and disenchantment: the mystery. She's there inside of it. She is it — so you'll not need to look far for her. Her soul was poured without stint, without vanity or self preservation, into the great thrumming depths of her work, into the lives of all those she cared for, into her beautiful children. She is here. I reach out and take her hands and kiss them.

From exhibition catalogue Sarah Raphael 1960-2001: A Survey of Work from 1994–2001, Marlborough Fine Art, London, 2003
Photograph of Sarah Raphael by J.P. Masclet