An autofiction story about the making of an artwork
When Billy, ie me, told me the title of his new artwork I tried to keep a straight face. Then he goaded me, pressing for an answer. What was with the funny look when he said it was called All The Boys I Ever Kissed? He kept at it, nag nag nag, right in my face until I spat it out: “People will think it’s about YOU!”
He hit back: “Don’t be ridiculous! Who’d look at that and think it’s about me? Do I look like someone who’d kiss a guy called Bruce?”
Then he started telling the story all over again. He was listening to Grace Dent on the radio, plugging her upcoming appearance on Radio 4’s My Teenage Diaries. Grace finished the tease by saying her diaries contained the names of “all the boys I ever kissed”. This, Billy claims, was where he got the title. He said it got him thinking about kissing… like, do we all experience kisses in different ways? Doh! And the difference between a lip kiss and a mouth kiss. This, he says, is how he came to ask dozens of women to write the names of three “boys” they’ve kissed onto a big pair of red lips.
He even got quite theoretical about it, claiming that the names in the mouth cavity represented the “sexual” while those on a bit of plump red were “platonic”. He secretly inserted the word “Dad”, once in the cavity, once on the lips, to add a “sinister twist”. One woman wrote the names of her two dogs. Another one drew a stick figure called Twat.
Every time Billy tells this story he gives it a new spin. He even once spewed up the claim that every single name written into the artwork was “a story that will never be told, owned solely by the woman who wrote it” in an italic pen designed to disguise her handwriting. He even went full-throttle pretentious one day claiming it was piece of “feminist art”. One fool bought into the idea and remarked: “I bet Pablo was a good kisser”.
When an artist needs to explain an artwork, they’ve probably failed. Billy doesn’t accept this and continually makes bigger and bigger claims for this very ordinary piece. He has even made it the core of his “feminist collection”. Other pieces include a painting of three drunk women staggering down West Street, Brighton, and a composite of Lautrec’s Woman Putting On Her Stocking cavorting through a field of oversized poppies.
I really don’t know why I stick with Billy. Something keeps me attached to his irritating pronouncements. When he had a stroke in 2012 I truly honestly kept my fingers crossed for a week. But he came back to life and to sack him now would be cruel. I just wish he’d listen when I tell him that there is a very good reason why All The Boys I Ever Kissed has never appeared in any gallery, anywhere.