The first sighting occurred on my way home from the British Library. Having first seen the He-Goat, attempting to graze in the rush hour swill outside Russell Square station, I glimpsed his horns above the crowd a further four times in the duration of the 30 minute walk I take south to Waterloo. Unhurried as he went about his business, upright on his hind legs, he moved unseen or ignored by the crowds; stopping to peruse the newspapers outside the corner shop, trying unsuccessfully to hail a taxi at Holborn, and sitting outside The Wellington perched on the edge of a busy table, tapping a hoof up and down agitatedly. I bulleted over Waterloo Bridge, eyes to the pavement hoping I’d lost him, and threw myself onto a seat on the top deck of the bus, peering out the window and breathing heavily.
I spied him in the crowd at Elephant & Castle, queuing patiently to get on the bus. He lay stretched across the length of the back seat like a large dog. He didn’t acknowledge me, just got on with cleaning himself, swaying along with the movement of the bus as we were carried down the Old Kent Road. I took out my paper and assumed reading in the same way I would if a loud drunk came aboard, keeping my eyes absolutely fixed on the page while the words swam in front of me. I took a last glance at him before getting off at my stop, and alighted unaccompanied while the bus swung him away towards Catford. I experienced nothing further that night.
The He-Goat seems to be living a parallel existence, very similar to my own. I have seen him inspecting fruit in bowls outside the corner shop deftly with his hoofed feet, coming out of the off-licence (empty-handed ), crossing roads and on stairs and escalators, mostly travelling the opposite way to myself. He has never acknowledged me and I try to be inconspicuous. We are people who simply live in the same area, (though the sightings stretch right across the capital and once in the Lake District) and though we may see each other regularly enough to acknowledge one another, we do not wish to have to start engaging in pleasantries.
An interesting addition to the ‘off-pagers’ was Goya’s Saturn sidling up to me one day in Burgess Park. I acknowledged a weight next to me on the bench and I turned to see a bearded chap, completely naked holding what appeared to be a dead chicken. Poor Saturn looked utterly wretched and I gave a small smile, hoping to show some humanity while praying he didn’t try and engage in conversation. He emitted low rumbling moans, like a small growling animal, and sat there next to me with pleading eyes, while I continued to stare out determinedly towards the lake. It was only after he stood up and started slowly making his way round the perimeter of the water, did I realise it wasn’t a chicken, headless and bloody, it was the carcass of his dead baby son, being dragged behind him like a rag doll.
My research lies in the point where the conceptual meets the figurative. That exact moment where the recognisable becomes unrecognisable, I believe, causes certain incidents to happen and certain sightings, neither real nor unreal but something entirely new altogether, to be born.
The Black Paintings were not part of my original research. Goya was not one of the artists in my proposal. But the books came. Handed to me at the British Library desk, ordered under my name but not by me. Half asleep and distracted by some bold knitwear choices in the queue in front of me, I took the huge stack of books to my usual desk and only realised the error once I’d sat down. Sighing I noted the large queue that I would have to join to return the books. It would be quieter in half an hour once the morning rush died down. I started absent-mindedly flicking through the pile in front of me.
Painted directly onto the walls of a farmhouse outside Madrid, where Goya was holed up following an acute bout of illness and still processing the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars. The murals were later ripped from their foundations on the orders of a French banker looking to make a quick buck, and tacked onto canvas to be sold, undergoing heavy handed restoration in the process.