I took my paintings to the cleaners: It started out as a great idea - a creative marriage of dirty linen and fine art. Peter Rosengard explains

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A couple of weeks ago I had my first exhibition as a painter at the Alterations Gallery in Holland Park, otherwise known as Perkins the Dry Cleaners. I'd convinced the owner, Gary, that what his empty walls were crying out for was some art. For him, it would stop the casual passer-by in his tracks: 'What a lovely painting . . . mmm . . . I must get my suit cleaned.' I only had to wait for those dirty shirts.

'Gary, you will be making history,' I said. 'Think of the publicity you will get from being the owner of the world's first dry cleaners and art gallery combined. It's very Dada, you know.'

'Yes, I suppose it is really,' said Gary. 'But I don't actually know any artists.'

I told him I just happened to know a very talented new artist. Half an hour later I started hanging my paintings among the suits and shirts.

At the opening party the guests stood around with glasses of wine in one hand and baskets of dirty laundry in the other. Gary had stuck vouchers on the invitations: '25 per cent off all dry cleaning with every painting bought.'

Gary has the makings of a natural gallery owner: he doesn't know a thing about art, but he's got a terrific eye. He kept going up to people at the party and saying: 'You're missing the third button down off your shirt. Take it off and I'll sew it on for you.' Here was a gallery owner who was starting off taking the shirts off people's backs. An hour after the party began, half the guests were topless.

On the first day of the exhibition I had a small problem with the seamstress. She pressed one of my paintings. Someone had left a pair of trousers on top of a self-portrait waiting to be hung. She put a crease right down the middle of my face.

The next day, I thought I'd do a little market research. I asked an elderly nun who was leaving half a dozen habits for a quick dab and press what she thought of the large painting above the cash register.

'Oh, there'll be a lot of anguish and pain there,' she said, after studying it carefully.

'Really?' I said, 'You think the artist was suffering?'

'Oh, no,' she said. 'It's the customers who'll be suffering till the bloody thing's taken down.'

The next day a pair of yellow silk curtains waiting to be collected got a little too close to one of my purple periods which was still wet and ended up as yellow curtains with purple stripes. Gary didn't appreciate my argument that it really added something to them, and he didn't think the owners would, either.

Things came to a head a couple of days later when I caught the seamstress taking down the paintings I'd displayed in the windows.

'I can't see out] I have to see out]' she shouted. 'Just keep your eyes on the trousers,' I said as we grappled over an early Rosengard. 'Leave interpreting the outside world to us artists.'

'I just can't stand looking at 25 pictures of your ugly mug all day long,' she said. 'Why don't you have your next exhibition at your mother's house, she'll love it.'

I suppose it is a little unusual to have a first exhibition consisting entirely of self-portraits. But my wife only let me paint in the bathroom and every time I tried to think of something to paint I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and the rest is art history.

At the end of the first week we hadn't sold a single painting, although there had been a bit of excitement one morning when a customer said he was moving to a smaller house and could we take his painting in by three inches. When I woke up the next day after a busy night spent dreaming artistic dreams, I knew exactly what I had to do. I drove straight over to the 'gallery', walked in with an armful of my dirty shirts and walked out with an armful of my paintings. I bumped into Gary outside.

'What's up, Peter?' he asked, as I crammed the last of the exhibition into the boot of my car.

'I'm sorry, Gary,' I said, 'But the woman's a philistine] She pressed one of my paintings]'

'Yes, I heard about it,' he said, 'but can't we talk about this.'

'Look Gary. I think it's best if we just keep our relationship on a dry-cleaning basis only from now on,' I said.

'You're not talking to Sketchley's, are you?' Gary asked. 'They won't put that little extra sheet of pink tissue paper in your lightly starched shirts like we do.'

'Gary, we're talking artistic freedom here, not starch,' I said, as I turned on the ignition and headed for Cork Street.

(Photograph omitted)

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