This is all true. There were Giant Sandwiches on my mind but my childhood on the Australian flatland Congo never had a deli. There was just a run down Charlie Carters three suburbs down Marmion Avenue. With an affable butcher selling little boys under the guise of frankfurters. Then in 1979 or 1980 or possibly 1983 even the suburb across the main road got a small shop - Padbury shops. Right on. There was a little deli with the whole coloured flaps door business. You could walk there under half a wilting hour of exposed bastard sunlight. A bit later or earlier a BP was built on the main road. As we walked or rode to High School this became an ersatz deli en passant. With the deli a conspicuous hole in our lives we dreamed of them being erected in our neighbourhood. One on every corner! So close you could swank on down in a neat couple-o-minutes. We dreamed of needing milk and walking to get it. Oh how fresh and tasty our Nutrigrain would be! We dreamed of lolly bananas. Little fridges with ice-creams. The ‘burb only got its act together in 2000. Long after I’d moved away. Yes, to be a Man. It was built because a retirement home had been put up on a patch of bush we used to ride our bikes through. Limestone jumps and all that crazy sweet niceness. But yeah, the old folks need their fucking milk I suppose. More than us kids who could have technically gone out and milked Kangaroos. So the geezers have their deli, and by this they have a community. Because that’s what delis offer and that is what their out-of-date-code produce symbolises. It is such a big deal in a unitised car dominated frontier culture like Perth and the rest of Australia maybe too (though they don’t suffer like we do, no one does). Delis offer the chance to bump into someone, affect a casual intimacy. Or even if you don’t bump into someone you know, you get to see folk you assume are your neighbours in their tracksuit pants. Because as any anthropologist will tell you the deli is an unguarded place. It’s the only place for dagginess we have left. No one would go to the mall in sweats, but the deli is a different story. It’s unique on other levels too. I mean our guy still offers credit. But fuck now we have one, the deli as an institution is nearly gone. Today Tonight is saying how the bigger shops keep threatening, threatening to reduce us back to car occupants again. To have to plan and make a big old trip. Maybe this is why, at the end of their lives, Pumfrey has taken to stalking these places. Perhaps he’s conducting a preliminary autopsy. Whatever, there’s some hanging going down. And weirdly for all their promise the only sign of life is the little sign or shitty plastic chairs that get moved in and out. Oh sure maybe a girl goes in. A bike gets left out front. But no matter how much he watches nothing much of the way of the fantasy community I always missed ever reveals itself. And that’s because the community isn’t there. Doesn’t even exist!!!! (Oh except for the retired baby boomers who got to have everything!) Delis were always going be a pissy dream in this country. Taunting us that life could be different. Man, we don’t give enough of a fuck about each other. Especially in these Aspirational times. Let us all get down to Fountaingate – is that how you spell that? - and poonce around in our diamante-studded jeans and buy Dolly Parton albums and let anyone who would wish this different die a slow death with their mouldy breakfast cereals, their bread rolls, their tampered with packets of Smiths crisps. Let it all die. As Pumfrey charts this fade out he does so in the form of a Realism that exists simply as a plastic counting down of the gaps in the day. The painter doodles away in the time otherwise ruled by daytime television. And so Realism itself in Pumfrey’s hands moves at this speed. It is the vision and manual labour of the unemployed. The blighted. The artistic. The emptiness is palpable. But oh fuck enough of emptiness! What else? Another tributary. Um, Monet had his hay stacks. Remember? That’ll work. See, in the same way Pumfrey has his delis. Both are economic. Monet’s are the result of labour relations and so too the delis. Both are about distribution, needs and desires and the criss-crossing of them. And sunlight and the fading of sunlight too I suppose. And Monet’s thing was set against the first wave of modernism while Pumfrey’s are more modern than modern. Despite this, Pumfrey’s are totally less quick. His painterly modulations don’t modulate so fast. It’s all concrete and aching slow. Somehow the tracing of the hours and seconds seems endless. Like I already implied. It’s not a flickering, just the heavy weight of the passing of hours when nothing happens. It’s the weight that goes down when people make up excuses for why life wasn’t how it should have been when they should have got off their fat arses and made it happen. And spend days watching Wheel of Fortune. That is what passes for society here, for culture too. Painting claws this back and makes it real and prolongs its death throe agony. But why? I don’t know, but in the deli Pumfrey finds its match. I’m repeating myself – and saying “but” too much, I know - but look the deli is on the way out, has been for decades, just like painting. Both hang on despite themselves. Maybe there’s a need. Some need unnamed, aside from ideology and capital. I don’t know. I do know that both deli running and painting practices are feats of endurance, of the articulation of pure sun-drenched being, of the mute existence of our Swan plains drifting. Both are people who beaver away behind the scenes, people who came here, some of them anyway, to make a better life and now never get to go out. People who live their lives between the open and closed signs, who don’t commute, who shuffle from the back door to home. Whose lives collapse on themselves, stuck, the television on all day behind the counter. Yeah, the painter who don’t go out anymore. Just sets up a camera furtive and runs back to the studio and does his or her thing. Dealing with the shrinking. Why the fuck don’t you make your own milk? Jesus, delis and paintings are places existing between destinations, on the way from forgetfulness, full of the stuff we kinda need but not so desperate. And will be gone soon anyway so why do we care? Which must be a parable about something, you’d suppose.
*prices valid 2006
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