Sarah Gray latest short story collection, Urban Creatures, is out now. For more information about Sarah visit: https://www.sarahgrayracontesse.com/
Big Jane (so-called because my younger sister was named after her) was responsible for my first visit to an art gallery. She was our cool auntie; playing David Bowie albums, wearing baggy jumpers and bumper boots and letting us chew on her liquorice flavoured Rizlas. 16 years junior to my dad, she was more like an adored elder sibling than an aunt. It was at our trip to the Tate when I met The Lady of Shallot (1888, John William Waterhouse). It was terrifying; the painting was incredibly huge in direct contrast to my tiny 8 year old frame, she also looked so sad and yet hauntingly beautiful.
I hid behind Big Jane as she explained the painting was based on a poem by Alfred Tennyson and inspired by the myth of Camelot. I was heartbroken and full of questions – why had the Lady been cursed? Why did she have to die for falling in love with Sir Lancelot? Why did she have to look upon the world through a mirror? I hadn't realised until then that paintings told stories and contained symbolism as clues to its meaning. I didn't know that poets inspired visual artists, or that creativity was so fluid.
This painting was my window into the work of J W Waterhouse and the stories of other cultures and folklorist creatures. The Arthurian legend is one that threaded throughout my childhood. On family holidays to Tintagel (the mythical seat of Camelot) I imagined the Dragon's mist rolling in from the sea and Merlin casting his spells from a-top the cliffs. As a consequence, my own writing is replete with magical beings, mythical gods and tales of the supernatural.
It must have been incredibly difficult for Jane to come out. I remember my Nan saying, "It's just that she hasn't found the right man yet." and that Jane's friend Cathy never came into the house. But in the same way I'd been taught about art, travel and music – I’ve looked further and seen more. It's quite possible I'd never have become a writer, if it wasn't for those lessons and I thank The Lady of Shallot and Big Jane for that.
For more information about The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse click here.
As part of Pride Month 2020, Crossbeam and Waterloo Festival are presenting a blog, featuring LGBTQIA+ artists and those who hold LGBTQIA+ art dear to them.
Josh Mock, curating the series, writes:
"It is my hope that by sharing the stories of diverse artists, we can appreciate and celebrate all those who strive to use art as a vehicle for LGBTQIA+ inclusion, activism, and advocacy."