Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast

Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast

Clare Peake

Language: English

Pages: 156

ISBN: 1780333854

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Clare Peake, daughter of the celebrated writer and artist Mervyn Peake, tells the story of her parents' romance and her own happy and bohemian childhood. Mervyn Peake was born in China, the son of medical missionaries, and the juxtaposition of his exotic surroundings and the very English manners at home had a lasting effect on him. Reading Treasure Island until he could recite it by heart and waiting for comics to arrive from England had him living a childhood bursting with imagery. He returned to England to study at the Royal Academy School and was then offered a teaching post at Westminster School of Art. There his charismatic and un-worldly presence made a huge impact: none more so than on Maeve Gilmore, a seventeen-year-old sculpture student. The couple fell passionately in love but Maeve's parents were determined their daughter would not marry a penniless artist and sent her away to forget him. She didn't and, refusing to be parted ever again, they married when Maeve was nineteen and Mervyn twenty-six. Mervyn Peake developed Parkinson's disease aged forty-five. His decline was rapid and he spent time in and out of mental hospitals until his death at fifty-seven, the diagnosis never fully understood. Clare Peake writes movingly of the impact on the family and her mother's determination to continue giving her children the happiness she felt all children deserved.

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still living in Kent, we kept on the studio, and I often stayed the night there. Sometimes it was all five of us; sometimes it was just Dad and me. Making my bed couldn’t have been easier. Two similar-sized canvases would be propped against each other like vast playing cards, not toppling, but rigid as a priest’s hands. Inside the canvases, still smelling of paint and occasionally still wet, it was warm and dark. A blanket was draped over each end, the blankets and the weave of the tawny brown

I dropped off to the voices of many of the artists and writers of the day – Augustus John, John Minton, Rodney Ackland, Matthew Smith, Stevie Smith, Graham Greene, Kathleen Raine and Laurie Lee among so many others. In Dylan Thomas’s case the studio became a home from home, somewhere to stay when the rows with Caitlin became unbearable or, worse, when his DTs had my parents nursing him through his tremors and terrifying hallucinations. But just as easily it might have been a stranger that Mervyn

war, Lonnie arrived unexpectedly at the studio. Maeve didn’t recognise the emaciated man being helped to the door by a tearful taxi driver, who refused the fare in a never-to-be-forgotten act of kindness. Lonnie’s rugby physique had shrivelled to a skeletal six stone. His wife and children were in Canada, so he had come to his brother Mervyn’s. He slept and he ate. A diet of rice, day after day, year after year, had him dreaming of nothing more exotic than the luxury of bread and butter. Both

boarder. The day girls were growing up in a way we weren’t, and the gap between us was widening fast. While we boarders were still getting our thrills from listening to Radio Luxembourg after lights out, praying that Pete Murray might dedicate another song to the girls in our dorm, they had proper dates with boys. They bought make-up and experimented with blue eye shadow, they teased their hair into bee-hives, they wore stockings and frilly suspender belts under their brown tunics, and they

to see you gloriously serene, and I hope perhaps the get away, into somewhere quite different, may help you to reach some kind of equipoise. I’m sure you are being a great success there. If you want to write something, why not simply make notes of things you see, or hear, or think, so that in time, when you really want to write, you can call upon such observations, as only too soon, impressions fade, never to be recaptured. Dillons had a bad fire, the record department quite destroyed and the

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