PETER GALLAGHER (Written for ISIS in 1995)
My name is Peter Gallagher, I am 38 years old and was bom in the west of Ireland. I am artist and musician and at the moment I am exhibiting a number of paintings in Golders Green. I have exhibited previously in Oxford, at Freuds Arts Cafe, at Ellingfort Galleries, and at Flukes Cradle Cafe Bar, in Camden Town, London, which became the setting for my somewhat bizarre tale.
This story began in the early months of 1993, when, together with a friend of mine from the states, I trawled the art galleries of London, hoping to break into the closed-shop art exhibition circuit with a pile of heavy canvasses and portfolio of photographs and slides.
My heavily dour and moody portraits did not excite the optimistic decorative galleries, and we were shown the door many times before I could skate across the polished wooden floors to lay out my paintings for viewing. It seemed that our efforts were all to no avail, until we happened upon Flukes Cradle Cafe bar in Camden, who exhibit the works of many London artists. The manager decided to give me a chance and after two weeks of frantic preparation, my paintings were hanging shoulder to shoulder around this popular coffee bar.
After a steady start, I began to sell regularly and Flukes Cradle kept me on. Spring and summer passed and the autumn was drawing to a close when a bizarre chain of events occurred. This series of events began when I received a 'phone call from a lady who, for the purpose of this essay will be known as Katherine. Katherine had called with a view to buying one of my paintings entitied "L'Etranger" which was hanging by the window at Flukes Cafe. Despite it's catalogue price, I'd previously given the picture, as a present to Phil, a close friend, and I explained this to her. Curiously, she said, "I must have it!" and demanded my friends phone number. After I refused several times, she announced she was prepared to pay a lot of money for the painting. She said it no longer concerned me anymore, now that I had given it away. It interested me to know what she would offer my friend so I gave her his telephone number. It turned out that she was prepared to pay £500. Phil and I discussed this matter and decided to come to an arrangement, whereby we split the money between us.
On October 30th 1993 we met Katherine at Flukes Cradle Cafe bar, she was accompanied by a friend. I told the manager that I'd found a buyer for "L'Etranger". He said that the painting would now be worth a lot of money. I didn't understand what he meant, until he told me that Bob Dylan had sat beneath the painting and had been video'd by Dave Stewart, during the summer, with an album cover in mind. It was quite a surprise as you can imagine, especially since I'd been a regular patron there and nobody had mentioned it until now. Quite unbelievable really.
The painting itself shows a desperate and forlom figure, on a beach having just committed a murder. His name Meursault, from Albert Camus' famous (1942), novel, "L'Etranger". The picture was "propped up" on it's left side by the mantelpiece, in the front room of the cafe The picture had fowled there when I had originally hung It, and to me it seemed that the mantelpiece "steadied" the painting from it's dizzy and reeling subject matter. I was content to leave it tilting in such a way for this effect.
It's always been my policy to be around personally to hand over my paintings to buyers and this was not going to be an exception. I like the feedback. The paintings mean a lot to me and I put my heart and soul into them. We spent a full hour with Katherine and her friend and I told her about Bob Dylan's interest in the picture for his album cover. It didn't stir much of a response in her, she hardly twitched. I asked why she wanted the picture so badly. But equally, she hadn't liked it when she first saw it, but had got to love it gradually, and she hoped to hang it above her bed and wake up to it every morning. She said it would bring her luck. Really? I thought. She seemed more intent on talking to my friend Phil, and Quantum Mechanics were mentioned several times between them. The only thing I know about Quantum Mechanics is that when a butterfly flaps it's wings, there'll be a blowin' in the wind. Katherine was perhaps thinking of other things when she bought the picture.
A couple of weeks passed and my sister's boyfriend rang me to say that he had just seen Bob Dylan's CD 'World Gone Wrong' in Tower Records, London, and that my painting was indeed featured in the background. London Underground were now running large 5' x 4' posters of the album sleeve (the format of the posters was actually taller than that of the album cover, and in consequence displayed even more of my picture). There was a promotional video of the album's single 'Blood In My Eyes' filmed in Camden, showing on national network T.V in the States. Full page magazine adverts. A number of people even likened my style of painting to that of Bob Dylan.
That was the good news, now for the bad. I had signed the painting in the bottom right hand corner, but unfortunately it was obscured by Dylan's top hat. 'Sony-Columbia' had not approached me, and there was no mention of my name on the album credits. But for the manager of Flukes Cradle making a cursory remark two weeks previous, I might have come face to face with my painting on London Underground, late at night, alone on a platform, in a drunken stupor. What would you have done? Jump! This is the misery line. Like all good euphoric attacks there is an equally disabling depression just around the comer. Could not the record company have said something; asked permission. My brother suggested I ring Sony Columbia in London. I had started off in Camus and ended up in a Kafka novel. Look for a decision maker. Find the responsible person forget it! I got a music solicitor to find out why nobody asked me for licence to use the painting. I still had copyright, and it was my intellectual property. Why no credit? What followed was, almost a year of knee bending, twitching swordplay, legal bluff. Noise of wind, in impotent gusts wafting to and fro across the Atlantic. More blowin in the wind. Gastro Enteritis I call it.
It was in February 1994 that Sony Columbia informed me that Bob Dylan had bought the painting "with the specific objective of avoiding any further difficulties." In March, Sony's New York law dept. continued with a letter. It followed that; "Jeff Rosen (from Dylan's New York office), had asked one of Dave Stewart's employees to purchase the painting, so he would have rights to it when the album was released. Two of Dave Stewart's employees located the (Camden) restaurant but were told that the painting had been sold to Katherine." Within 48 hours they met Katherine and had bought the painting from her for £2,500. Well, she had said it would bring her good luck! £2,000 profit in two days. I call that incredible good luck!!
Strange to say that as a sixteen year old I used to play tennis with a Bob Dylan fan. I had little interest or awareness of his hero's songs until one day he rammed Dylan's lyrics down my throat and told me I must be stupid if I didn't understand him. I just felt hurt. I have never listened to a Bob Dylan album since that day, apart from 'World Gone Wrong' It's all the more poignant now. I did however, like the album.
As a painter and musician in my own right, it's been a strange year. Bob Dylan on one side, me on the other and a minefield of legal jargon between us. I still don't understand him. Has the World Gone Wrong? To avoid further calamities I accepted the painting back from the Dylan camp and they agreed to a credit on future printings of the album. Sony paid my legal fees and suggested I could make a good price from the painting, because of it's association with Dylan.