Portrait 1: Myself as a teenager

Words by Chris Somerville

Pictures by Chris Somerville

Published on August 2, 2013

At seventeen I was taking art classes at university and not enjoying them. I was aware that I was very serious. I read a lot. I’d had a subscription to the New Yorker since fifteen. My father was ill and at home in bed almost all of the time. He had a muscle disease and was becoming very thin; I could scoop him up easily in my arms. The degree I was in was called a Bachelor of Creative Arts. On top of the art classes I was studying music, theory and creative writing. I liked the music class the most even though, unlike my other classmates, I couldn’t play an instrument at all. There were only five of us in the class, and each week we jammed ourselves into the booth of a recording studio on campus.

The fiction I was writing at the time was very serious too. It featured mostly unhappy people. Unhappy people living beside the beach. Unhappy people trying to talk to each other at breakfast. Unhappy people knocking over glasses of milk. I wasn’t having much fun with anything and neither was anyone I was writing about.

The problem I had with art was my complete lack of interest in anything other than drawing. I hated conceptual art. I couldn’t paint the side of a house. I was chasing after a girl in my class,  a third year who would hand in photographs of herself naked for almost every assignment. She wasn’t very interested in me. I was doing okay in my writing course, with my dour little vignettes, and I found it pretty easy to let everything else drift away.

A vivid memory of my father: Out the front of a hotel in rural Victoria. I’m about fifteen. A donkey is biting the arm of my father’s jacket. My mother and brother are watching. I am watching. My father is hitting the side of the donkey with a walking stick, trying not to lose his balance.

Chris Somerville’s first book, We Are Not The Same Anymore, was published earlier this year. He can be found at www.chrissomerville.com.