Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The people on the streets


OUTCASTS and strange folk are fascinating to me ... as I say in my website porch, they are most welcome in my world, and indeed they people my paintings more than do any others.
As you may have read before, our living is made by selling our work from town to town, setting up a temporary display on the street, selling pictures to passers by and then moving on. This is the most exhilaratingly precarious way to make a living, where earnings are dependent on such see-sawing variables as the weather, people's whims and wallets, vehicular compliance, police and council officials' good will & finding a Good Spot...
Recently we have been hiding in the hills more than usual due to unending rain, truck preparations and repairs, and paintings to do.. nevertheless, we have to go and sell when we run out of money and grab any chink of sun that we can. Often this might mean a small trip to our nearest big town - Glasgow, which for the last two weekends has been the case (yesterday being a true escapade of frazzling exhaustion, ending in us randomly not being allowed on the tube due to our baggage and "health and safety reasons".)

In this country, selling our work like this is not exactly legal; it is impossible to get a license for street trading in the way we do it. Most towns have a handful of licenses available and these have been bought up for years ahead by locals who turn up every Saturday with a tacky display of cheap football shirts and mobile phone accessories, and this is not quite what we're after anyhow, as we sell in many towns. The only alternative is a pedlar's license (bought from the police) which "officially" covers you for peddling door to door or selling on a mobile trolley sort of affair that you move every 15 minutes down the street.

The term pedlar means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other mens houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft;
~ Interpretation of the term "pedlar" from the Pedlars Act 1871


Luckily we get away with it most of the time, and if we are approached by police on their rounds/suited council officials on their lunch break who decide to invoke the law, often a pleasant conversation about how we do what we do, try our best not to bother anyone, and how we'd buy a country-wide license if one existed appeals to their humanity and they turn a blind eye. Not so always however. There are people in the world who take pleasure in speaking to us as if we are a piece of dirt on their shoe, making assumptions before even trying to have a conversation with us. If these people are the ones asking us to move and happen to have a uniform on, then we have to move, even if the day was going well and the sun was shining. On the whole though, the police are fine.
Plenty of contradictions are thrown in our laps too... over the road we see a beggar preparing for his days' work: positioning his polystyrene cup in front of his feet, donning a suitably grubby t-shirt, pulling it forlornly over his knees, and bowing his head, ready to invoke peoples' pity and in so doing earning often more than a street musician. This is not illegal. The police can move us for selling pictures that we've made ourselves, but they can't move him. In other towns we are approached regularly by people with cameras and microphones... they are making a film about the vibrancy of the street entertainment in the town and could they interview us.

On top of all this, we have to deal with the colourful circus of humanity that lurches past us while we sit there quietly selling our pictures. Despite the fact that we tend towards the shy and certainly never shout "roll up, roll up".. we are called upon by the street to rub shoulders with what, I am certain, must be the strangest, most challenging and disconcerting folk ever to walk the planet.This phenomenon never fails to amaze us and cause us to shake our heads in disbelief.

In the early morning we have to battle with our trolley of wares and armfuls of pictures up and down public transport steps to beat all the other street performers to our Good Spot (a wall where we can lean our pictures that isn't in front of a shop).

Once there and set up, and before many people are even about, we will have met at least two teetering bedraggled drunks who can barely speak and decide that we are the most interesting folk to talk earnest jibberish to, three inches from our faces, even though they can't remember who they are or where they live. The day continues like this ... there are the regular hoo-haas between buskers loud and quiet, talented and dreadful /balloon modelers /Big Issue sellers /street performers /left-wing campaign groups with leaflets and tables and stiff expressions /religious fanatics with microphones and billboards of sin and damnation /annoyingly bouncy "chuggers" (charity muggers) with studenty haircuts who block people's path and bully them emotionally into giving.

In between meeting lovely interested kind people who look at or buy pictures or just pass with a smile, we have to parry the metaphorical blows of a stream of nutters: abusive track-suited teens on low bikes who, laughing, pretend to ride over our pictures and tell us to cut our hair; lonely old men with obsessive interests in cameras and large bellies who engage us in inescapable conversation for aeons; costumed genuflecting weirdos with quotations tattooed on their arms who use the word "betwixt" in ordinary conversation; hollow-eyed heroin addicts who want money for the train; tottering abrasive plastic women/judgmental fat lawyers talking on mobile phones who stand almost on top of of our display and on being asked kindly to move a little say things like "he wants us to move" or "You dare to ask me to move? You're scum"; guitar strumming buskers with dogs that howl to the harmonica who chat at us vaguely; red-faced old scots who shout - "Are you English?! What are you doing here?!"; bearded and alcoholic old men with no homes who dance in joyful oblivion to the street musicians playing and who are not the tiniest bit aware of the crowd of shoppers who have stopped to hold up mobile phones, to laugh and ridicule and video him ...


All of these sad, funny, upsetting and unbelievable anecdotes are true to the letter and have happened to us on the streets of the UK. I may sound like a ranting hermit, but days like yesterday make you marvel and despair at the people in the world, and want to scuttle off to the forest. However, I have always found these interactions fascinating, and it makes a happy encounter with a friendly, unusual or interesting person all the more appreciated. I love the beautiful colourfulness of life, but there are some horrors out there too. Being on the street and exposing yourself to that thing which we call people is a brave eyeopener and a journey and a half for a hermit.

Sometimes when we sit waiting for a sale (which can be a long wait on a bad day and a fleeting minute on a good day), I play the accordion to pass the time and gather a few pennies, or I draw.
There above (click for a larger view) is a collection of a few sketches that I have made whilst sitting amidst the uproariousness of the street, they are almost always portraits of people in my head (although once, in Canterbury, an exact incarnation of my just finished drawing walked past! ~ the old plaited lady, bottom left).

They are odd folk, outcasts, people with wonky eyes ... the people I welcome into my world, and, I suppose, they are the medieval marketplace of folk going by. Maybe I romanticize them ... for in amongst it all, these people are raw and not always pleasant. But for all that, my eyes always will be drawn to the ones who are sitting on the edges of things.

29 comments:

dragonladych said...

Oh how many times did I wonder about such things! When I was in my 20's I used to dream I'd have the courage to live this sort of life, but of course it's also not always what you dream when you are young.

I so totally loathe this society that never looks past appearances and is so stuck in prejudice. And it gets worse as I grow older, I am really intolerant of this now.

But of course there are also very nice people and I met some fascinating people, even on my doorstep. Once there was a whole family living like you, in a bus parked in front of my house. They invited me in and it was an amazing evening!

Yoli said...

I also love fringe people. If you are too normal you have no place in my world.

Robyn said...

Such an interesting post. I'm a great people watcher and recognise quite a few of the people you describe. You had me giggling one minute and sad the next. I think I would be quite nervous doing what you do, never knowing what sort of reception you are going to get. Your art is so beautiful that I would think it would put a smile on the face of every person who walks by.

moonbindery said...

Really interesting post--sounds like you innocently set up to sell your art, but the citizens of the street saw you as one of their own.

By the way, I've passed a blog award on to you because your adventures in life and art are so interesting and inspiring...
http://moonbindery.blogspot.com/2008/07/arte-y-pico-award.html

Shelley Noble said...

You have a mind boggling talent, Rima. You have to have the most challenging way possible to make money. If you were in a cosy shop or gallery you'd command the appropriate respect, but that isn't your life style.

I feel it's a shame you two can't just live in the forest and eat food you can grow or trade for in the village in between making art. My fantasy.

What's the answer for the true artist? And so you struggle on and make the most of it. Certainly the art you make shows you have done that.

I can't help imagining you making a film yourself of what you are seeing and living. In that fantasy you are showered with money from the success of it.

Tom said...

This is a beautiful post - it made me smile and touched my heart. I recognised a world.

Lucy said...

This is a wonderfully thought provoking post, thankyou so much for sharing it. You guys are so brave to do what you do, I take my hat off to you,

Enelya :-)

BaileyZimmerman said...

Rima,
Blessings of plenty on both of you!!
Thank you for sharing your world with us!!
Your drawings are magical!
cheers,
L
http://baileyzimmerman.blogspot.com

Carol said...

Rima, this is a most beautiful post, touching and inspiring by turns. Your courage amazes me and the inhumanity you occasionally face appalls me. Your work is full of beauty and if people can't see that then it's their loss; but it's unfortunate that you have to deal with their rudeness. Thank goodness for the kindness and acceptance you find at other times. My very best wishes from Sydney, Australia.

Terry Rafferty said...

Thanks for the fascinating glimpse of part of your life, Rima. You write with such clarity its easy to see, hear and smell the characters you encounter. Not an easy life you lead, but one full of daily adventures.

mama p said...

I love it when you get so steamed up you can't help but write a mesmerizing chunk like this :) Thank you for sharing, and I too rather second the idea of filming it in some interesting way. I m'self was spat upon once, that sure was a memorable day. But the nice thing to me is now, how the memory carries with it simply how very happy I was in the moments just before, not so much the indignation and despair-for-humanity after...and this imprint of happiness has lasted verily 16 years. When you shine, you shine, just like in this note to all of us. Keep on Rima!

Ciara said...

Oh yes, I recognise this all too well, the stinking, or is it fragrant, cauldron of humanity! I do remember a well dressed man snarling at me that I was like a 'tinker' as I walked with my head held high on a street in my hometown of Dublin!

What a wonderful snapshot you have shown us. You really do throw yourself to the lions when you become part of the madness that is the streets of a city!

d. moll, l.ac. said...

A well written piece, you should print it out to give to persons who hassle you. Yours sketches put me in mind of some of Da Vinci's character studies. As a wee lass I used to sell my work from out driveway. It was during the Viet Nam war and I was painting "Peace Doves". One man who used to work for Disney bought 5 of them for his office and his friends.

Jess said...

Hi Rima,
It's a brave thing you do to expose yourselves like this but what material you gather for your characters! The drawings above are so sensitive and beautiful. I love to see old people holding on to their long hair. Not so keen on long beards though!x

mister M said...

hello Rima, ton crayon en main tu fait des merveilles!
bravo

littlerobot said...

Rima! All I can say is that I for one am glad to know that some people are still making their lives from something other than the standard 9-5! Long may you peddle. Oh, yes, if you have any bits and pieces i'd love to take them off your hands! We should organise a date for gettig together - This weather is rubbish to rely on! Oh, BTW are you guys in Glasgow on Saturday? I'm meant to be going in :)

Marie Antionette said...

You decribed the very town, I live in. Downtown ,Picayune ,Mississippi. LOL We have a street fair,twice a year.Most venders sell nothing but junky crap, while venders like you sell painting and such.I've tried to sell my dolls and other items and the town folk, just leer at it and walk on by. Its funny to me. I leer back. LOL I just sell by word of mouth mainly. Now Jackson Square in New Orlean,home of my birth.Your beautiful art would sell there. Hugs Marie Antionette

herhimnbryn said...

Joyful and sad by turns I read your post. Your observations are so acute.

I wonder if I was ever in Canterbury at the same time as you?:)

Koldo said...

Rima, what a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing this!

It brought me so many memories... I used to be a traveller as a teenager. That was in the 80's. I travelled all around the UK in a van, selling my art and crafstmanship as you do.

I also used to sell my drawings while travelling in the North of Spain while my friends played music in the streets. For a few years I sold my engraving art and sculptures in street markets all over the place. I used to sleep in the streets and in the most strange places you could think of. I was not a beggar, I lived from my art and I just wanted to experience life.

I can perfectly recognize all the things you relate: the people, the situations. For me, it was a very interesting way of schooling. Of course I wouldn't do it now because I don't feel I need to experience this anymore, but I am very proud that I did it when I felt I needed to. And I am really glad to hear about your stories. Hats off!

Jo James said...

Yours, Dear Rima, is my favorite world to visit. Thank you for keeping this blog.

Your drawings are lovely and magical, as always.

When you get your house-on-wheels mobile, will you wander about? Perhaps it would soften your world up a bit, having a buffer between yourself and its uglier bits. I find the world so much softer when I can retreat into my own shell, so to speak. That's why I like our foggy days, make the world seem smaller, quieter, softer.

I bet you'd love Oregon.

willow said...

What a wide variety of folks this world is made of. Sad to hear of your frustrations, Rima. I admire you and Tui for your sweet spirits and love of art.

I would love to sit and listen to you play the accordion!! :)

Carolee said...

What a blessing to read of your wanderings and adventures. It seems a life not without challenges, but perhaps made richer for them; stepping outside one's safety zone, meeting those people on the fringes, experiencing a bit of life many of us never see....Although it does seem there should be some legal remedy for the permit problem. If a beggar is permitted to go about his business without interference, surely an artist should have the same right....

Thanks for sharing a bit of your life. Sending you wishes for sunnier days and sunnier encounters. :)

Blessings,
~ Carolee

industrialpoppy said...

I too think of the people that inhabit the story I currently find myself in, as a medieval mix of characters, out of costume of course, but true to their natures regardless.
Sometimes curious, always entertaining.
Very enjoyable blog, and fascinating artwork.

PG said...

Brave Rima! I would rather hide on my own in the woods than face all that humanity. It is a bit bloody ridiculous that you can beg but not sell. I imagine that if to be a politician you had to sell your wares in the street like this, the law would be changed within weeks...

moreidlethoughts said...

I find it sad that you and others like you must endure the rudeness of some.But I am gladdened by your spirits and the good things that you see and that come to you.

BumbleVee said...

I'm not sure this part of the life is worth it.... monetarily or emotionally.... surely there must be a better way to make some sales and yet still live the life of a gypsy.....still view the humanity you desire to draw and paint.... hopefully you will find some better outlets for your art.......

Morna said...

Rima, I really enjoyed reading this. I have passed it on the my husband, daughter, and daughter's guy. You do realize, I have to assume you must, that you could make quite a bit of $$$ by designing websites for people. You are one of the greatest website designers I've seen --- and I spend way too much time surfing the www, so I've seen a lot. :) And, the soundtrack for Once upon o'clock (clever) is very charming.

Morna said...

p.s I know of a web designer here, in the USA, who is very good and very successful and he does the entire process through e-mails.

Nia said...

People are scared of what they don't know, or understand, but often they don't even try to understand. I love your work, it's very beautiful indeed. (I found your site/s through Jackie Morris's).