The Click: Penny Rimbaud
My father didn’t come back from war until 1945, when I was about five or six.
I didn’t like him because he was an interference, getting between me and the comfortable arms of my mother. This bloke came in and upset the norm, I didn’t like what he talked about. Not that he talked about war particularly, but he just didn’t seem a very happy person. I guess anyone who’s been at war for four years isn’t going to be happy. But as a young kid, you don’t understand that.
Both my mother and father read a great deal. One day I pulled a book off the shelves because it looked interesting. It didn’t have writing on it, like other books, but when I opened it I was confronted with the pits of Auschwitz. It was a book about the concentration camps. It was horrible and disgusting and frightening to a little kid. But I couldn’t look away. I closed it very quietly not wanting to scare anyone, including myself, and sneaked it back onto the shelves and never mentioned anything again.
I remember one particular picture where there’s one woman who could almost be called beautiful. She was a wretchedly starved woman, but there was something about her face peering out of the pit. I did artwork many years later, based exactly on this woman staring out, and made her beautiful – I gave her colour in her face again. That made me dislike my dad and his service even more. He often used to refer to something called the ‘real world’ where you go out to work. Even at six, I could see that people didn’t enjoy working, so I thought, ‘Well, what is this real world you’re talking about?’
They say those are the formative years, up to age seven, then you start building on whatever you’ve got. I decided at seven that I was having none of it. I wasn’t going to live in this ‘real world’. Soon after, my family went on holiday in Italy and I met this American artist who made mono paintings. He seemed such a joyful person. I used to look after his art if he wanted to have a meal or take a walk. I’d even sell them for him if someone wanted to buy them. When the holiday was over, I went to say goodbye and he gave me this beautiful book with black and white prints made from fish, which were then thrown back into the water. It completely and utterly consumed me, I was just reborn. Art actually made sense to me, not like my dad’s real world. And that’s the most clear way I can say it.
Arthur Rimbaud In Verdun is out now via One Little Independent Records