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This review is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

MARINE SCRAPS ALBERT ROWE, The Boy and the Painter: Scenes from Alfred Wallis's St Ives (Tabb House) £12.99

The title story of this collection of autobiographical pieces, anecdotes and poems is as much of an enigma as Alfred Wallis's life. Understanding the ramifications of The Boy and the Painter requires backtracking to 1928, when a glimpse of haunting marine paintings through a St Ives cottage doorway led to their maker becoming a symbol of authenticity for Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, who acknowledged painting `more and more influence de Wallis'. The name conjures up flattened boats and giant fish with harbours and townscapes at odd angles. Wallis claimed he depicted `what use To Be' and had spent twenty-five years at sea, after becoming a cabin boy at nine. He came to St Ives in 1890 as a marine scrap dealer and took up painting after his wife's death. This activity was perceived by townspeople accustomed to gentlemen artists as yet another eccentricity, alongside phobias about wires transmitting messages and relatives poisoning him. The Wallis legend and artistic recognition grew after his death in 1942. He became a source of inspiration for writers, too, with Sven Berlin's wartime reconstruction of his life and Norman Levine's short story, A Sabbath Walk, published in Botteghe Oscure in 1956.

Albert Rowe recounted his memories of the painter on BBC radio in 1957, sowing confusion amongst art critics because he said his grandfather, Wallis's stepson, told him the deep-sea fishing voyages Wallis related vividly were all delusion. Rowe's word-portrait, through a boy's eyes, suggested other aspects of Wallis's thinking, some ...

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