I recently unearthed a box of old postcards, some of which I’ve had for 30 years. These aren’t postcards sent to me, but rather cards I’d bought, sometimes with the intention of sending short messages to friends (in the days before email), sometimes with the intention of putting them up on my kitchen wall. I lived in a one-bedroom flat in London for about 12 years and in that time covered my kitchen with cards. Anyway, that’s another story.
When I was about 15 I lived in Hampton Court, in a road across the Thames from the palace largely populated by antique shops. It was pretty dull and conservative but at some point a shop opened which upped the cultural profile of the street by several notches. Mainly it was a video rental shop but it also sold art postcards, posters and records. These days of course you can find Van Goghs and Monets on birthday cards in Sainsbury’s, but this was in the late 1980s and I’d rarely seen a shop which sold small versions of classic or arresting images that you could buy for a few pence and take home. The proprietor and I became good friends. He had revolving stands of mid-to-late 20th century black & white photo cards, while on the shop counter was a box of fairly random colour postcards. I was leafing through this one day and uncovered the card shown here. This is a painting by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa called “A Prickly Paer”. That spelling “paer” is as printed on the card and I still don’t know if it’s a misspelling of “pear” or if that’s how she spelt it, for some subversive reason. I was struck by the painting, probably – since I was a 15-year-old boy at the time – for predictable reasons, but beyond its obvious eroticism I was fascinated by it, by the relaxed and unashamed attitude of the subject, and the precision of the style and the colours. I’d never heard of the painter, and in those pre-internet days it was near-impossible to find out anything about artist(e)s who were anything less than massively famous. The image stuck in my imagination long after I forgot the name of the painter and lost the card.
Recently the image came back to me for no obvious reason and being unable to find the card on a cursory look in my flat I searched the web for “A Prickly Paer”. I was surprised to find no results – zero. All I got was a prompt for the “correct” spelling and endless images of cacti. Had I just imagined it? I tried spelling it “pear” instead, but still nothing. Finally I gave in and pulled down boxes from cupboards to see if I still had the original card. After hours of leafing through all sorts of mementos I was thrilled to finally turn up the card. My 30-year-old memory of the title (mis)spelling was correct. I have to admit that what I found just as fascinating as the image itself was the fact that it didn’t seem to exist on the internet: we live now in a time, I think, when it’s felt that our entire culture and history have already been uploaded to a server somewhere, so when something we’re sure exists doesn’t exist online it (ironically) has an unreal quality to it.
Anyway, reminded now of the painter’s name, I searched for her instead. Luciana Martinez de la Rosa was English, born in the New Forest in 1948, and was an artist and “personality” active on the punk scene, known mainly for a “cameo” role in Derek Jarman’s 1977 classic Jubilee (which I knew vaguely from being a one-time huge fan of Adam Ant, who also had a small role in the film). Apart from a very brief entry on the IMDb, the only site I can find with any details about her or her life is a brilliantly old-school site celebrating punk and New Wave music and art in the 70s and 80s called The Blitz Kids. There’s no information on there about the painting in particular, although the original can be seen hanging on the wall of de la Rosa’s home in this slightly NSFW photo. My postcard dates the painting to 1981 and the angular, stark visual pop culture of the eighties seems very clear. Her other work on that website shows a similar style and fondness for nudity both in her work and her life. There feels to me something of the Frida Kahlo about her and some of her imagery. While (or possibly because) I’m about as straight-laced as they come, I would love to have met de la Rosa, who seems to have been something of a character, an English eccentric who spent her life clubbing, painting and generally hanging out with artists and pop stars. Sadly this won’t be possible though, as she very sadly died of meningitis in 1995, as sensitively recorded in this tribute by fellow artist Duggie Fields.
As for the painting’s subject, I admire her confidence, from her relaxed stance, facial expression, direct eye contact, and frankly non-demure pubic hair. I’ve always found it odd that she kept her earrings in despite being naked; I’m not sure if they make her look more naked, or less. There is a prickliness to it, obviously, representative I think of the painter’s outre life and personality. I especially like the shadows of her fingers on her raised hand.
In posting this piece I am aware of two things – one, that a couple of readers will probably think “dirty old sod” (well, sod them) and two, that it appears I am making the image available for the first time on the web. It’s not often you get to do such a thing, and I think it’s deserved, because I think the painting is good and the image memorable and bold. I don’t do this lightly, though, as I can’t help feeling that both de la Rosa and I have lost something as a result of the image now passing from the obscurity of a treasured postcard in a box in someone’s room (and from the imagination of a sensitive 15-year-old) into the immeasurable, impersonal, crude mass of images on the internet. But maybe, given her non-conformist and mischievous nature, de la Rosa might like the idea that people searching for a particular kind of cactus might now also get something they hadn’t quite bargained for in their search results.