Since March I’ve been compiling & designing a biographical series of interviews and photographs about my father, the artist Tim Behrens. Also in the book are some of his paintings. Below is an extract from my interview with his longtime friend, the poet & columnist Hugo Williams. Below that are a few spreads from the book…
HW: When I first met Tim, he didn’t think I had a thought in my head. I thought that was really good.
CB: You weren’t insulted by that?
HW: No, not particularly. It was a strange, inverted compliment really about my looks, I think.
CB: You mean he thought you were so dashing you had to be thick?
HW: Yes. It was like saying I was an airhead, you know, like a dumb blonde. It also says something about Tim’s perception of people as well. He may have been more used to judging painters who have more self-expression in their appearances I suppose. I mean you can always tell a painter, can’t you? They’re always more obviously bohemian than writers are, I think. And they always leave the “g” off the end of their “ings”. “Paintin’” – London painters always say that. “Paintin’ huntin’ shootin’ and fishin.’”
CB: He judges people more than anyone I know at face value. It’s quite often he’ll say, “God, I couldn’t possibly speak to him, I don’t like his face-”
HW: -and then a sort of giggle as well. I mean one of the attractions about Tim is that he’s a bit of an outlaw. A moral outlaw, I suppose. He was when I met him. That was where I wanted to go, you know, that’s what I wanted to be, really. I wasn’t particularly interested in being a good boy, but I didn’t know how to be a bad boy. It seemed that Tim offered a way of being quite a comfortable sort of bad boy, just through talk. You didn’t have to do much. You could just say all kinds of awful things.
CB: So, he was a bad influence?
HW: No, I never felt he was my senior. I know he is a few years older, but it never felt like that. I always felt he was a contemporary.
CB: Can you remember when it was roughly that you met him?
HW: Well, what year? I can’t even remember what decade it was! Oh yes, of course, I think it was when he was living in College Cross. And I think he asked me back for a drink and to meet Harriet. He said, “Would you like to see a painting?” I said, “Oh, yeah, I’d love to see a painting,” and he went and got this fantastic painting about having sex with Harriet while the children were playing. It was obviously a Sunday; the Sunday papers were lying around. I can’t remember what form of sex they were having but it was not legitimate, it was not orthodox sex, quite. The extraordinary thing about it was that I had only just met Tim, so it was a strange sort of calling card in a sense. I mean, I could handle it. In fact I thought it was absolutely great. I wouldn’t mind doing that with my stuff, but painting is more shocking in a sense. He’s an enthusiastic chap. He’s always giggling his way forward through life, so that you go along with it, and it’s all a bit naughty and outrageous, but actually there are boundaries in Tim – I mean, he won’t go too far. And anyway, one was being asked to judge a work of art, so this might’ve been a kind of joke. He may have been having me on a bit by presenting something as a work of art, which in fact is a bit more than that. When did they get married, Tim and Harriet?
HW: God, yes, ’64…
CB: Of course, you had a relationship with my mother didn’t you? I keep forgetting that.
HW: Well, that was fairly brief. It was in the ‘70s.
CB: So you were one of the people she saw while she was with Tim.
HW: He was quite annoyed about it in a giggly sort of a way, you know. But he was trying to take my wife out at the time. I don’t know whether he went to bed with her, he may have done. She never says anything about that. I must ask him sometime. [Laughs] It never occurred to me to ask him actually! I do remember meeting Tim in Paris in 1972. I must have known him already, I suppose, to be familiar enough to hang out with him looking at new art, so I guess that was after I went to his house in College Cross. It must have been mainly where he lived the whole time he was in London, I think. So much before your time. It must be maddening for you because so much happened before your time. It’s just one of those things. Your whole family happened before you were born.
I’m trying to remember whether Tim was interested in dope like I was, or whether he was drinking. Did he have a dope period?
CB: He’s had periods of smoking it, but he definitely prefers drink. He doesn’t touch it any more, but I remember about fourteen years ago after lots of drinks, he’d get a little glint in his eye and say, “Let’s have a little joint, no?” He did keep a little hash in the house, but I don’t think he does it any more.
HW: God, I couldn’t stand drinking with Tim. He just had such an appetite for it and everything got stupider and stupider as far as I could see. That was the problem. When I first got to know Tim, I was really into the smoking thing. I would have been encouraging him to smoke, and what we did together was very much cannabis stupidity inspired doodles, you know. This was in someone’s flat – Baratier! That’s right, the Baratier’s flat. Or was it? He’d borrowed a flat off someone. I think there might have been a Chinese girl involved. [Laughs] Everything’s so vague! Anyway, he was staying there. I think I might’ve stayed there as well… And we started doing these picture poems. He’d do the paintings on the same page, and sometimes I’d put the poem first, and he’d paint round it, and sometimes he’d do a painting and I’d put words round it. We were pretty liberated by all that, but where you might be able to paint spontaneously, you can’t really write poems that spontaneously. I certainly can’t anyway, so they were just inspired by the dope really, they were just dope rhymes. I’d been putting off looking at them and I’ve looked at them today and thought, “Oh dear.” I had slightly thought that there might be something there, there might be a section for another book that I could put these crazy poems in, but now I’m not sure about that.
CB: You don’t like any of them?
HW: Well, it does bring back a sort of spluttering of the fun we had, and the sort of drinking and smoking and all that, because you get really enthusiastic when you’re young and you smoke dope. It’s not like when you smoke dope when you’re older. When you’re older it just takes the pain off really. That’s what’s really going on. But when you’re young you actually get crazily excited – I always found it really exciting. I still sometimes get excited by dope. I’m always hoping it’ll do it for me. Anyway, we did these things and it was on a big pad of graph paper called Modir, and so we always referred to it as, “The Modir,” and we’d address each other as Modir. [Laughs] It sounds really silly. He hasn’t got a serious bone in his body really. I mean, he certainly didn’t present one to me. That was never what it was about.
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