Vanessa Bell, 'Abstract Painting' circa 1914
Vanessa Bell
Abstract Painting circa 1914
Oil on canvas
support: 441 x 387 mm
frame: 520 x 468 x 54 mm
Purchased 1974© The estate of Vanessa Bell

Claudine had stolen a wooden spoon from Rob’s house.
That was six months ago. They had been having a meeting
about an event they were planning involving the local
community, because they lived in the same area of the city
and the event would, they hoped, bring their community
together in a positive celebration of local history and culture,
through drama. Rob had left Claudine in the kitchen to
fetch some toilet paper because the coffee had spilled over
the top of the cafetiere when Rob applied too much pressure
to the plunger. The spoon was hand-carved, its bowl was
round, the handle was whittled thin, tapering off. It had
been used to measure the coffee out. Claudine picked it off
the counter absentmindedly, but as soon as she heard Rob
returning she felt a small amount of shame about holding it,
about just standing there with the spoon, as the coffee spread
slowly across the counter. It was as if at the same pace inside
her a realisation was spreading. Claudine hid the spoon in
the sleeve of her thick, green jumper, the bowl end tucked
into her palm, the handle running along her wrist beneath
the cuff. Rob, busy mopping the spill, had not noticed that
Claudine had taken possession of his spoon. There came to
Claudine three thoughts, in quick succession: 1. That she
could not continue to hold and hide the spoon in its current
location for very long; 2. Therefore she would have to move
the spoon as soon as possible; 3. Being discovered trying to
steal a spoon was much worse than being discovered holding
one. As she watched Rob move the clump back and forth,
Claudine wondered if perhaps Rob was as much motivated
by a desire for control as he was by a desire to bring the local
community together through drama, and maybe, yes, 4. It
was worse to falsely advertise a selfless attitude towards your
community than to take a carved wooden spoon from
someone. She deserved the spoon more than Rob, and like a
cyclist settling into the rhythm of a new gear, a plan to steal
the spoon advanced in Claudine’s mind. Claudine waited
for Rob to dispose of the coffee-brown wad of the toilet
paper in the swing bin under the sink. Then she walked back
towards the table where her bag was sitting on a chair, and
reached down and placed the spoon into the zip pocket of
her bag. With a new sense of control Claudine then retrieved
a pack of tissues and, smiling, handed them to Rob so he
could wipe up the rest of the coffee without having to go all
the way back to the bathroom. Rob thanked her and smiled.
Claudine smiled. The coffee, when they then sat down to
drink it and discuss their plans, was delicious. And it was
that taste, followed by the memories of the community
drama event which last week had been such a great success,
that Claudine thought about, smiling again, as she looked at
the painting in front of her.

Jack Underwood is a poet, a teacher at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the Poetry School,a nd co-editor of the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives. His debut collection, Happiness, was published in 2015 by Faber and Faber.

Tags: