For this latest edition of Inspired, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented artist Lelya Borisenko. Lelya was born in 1973 in Shostka, Ukraine, a republic, which at that time was part of the USSR. She studied academical painting, easel graphics, etching and engraving in the Kharkov State Academy of Design and Fine Arts in 1993-1999. In 2001 she moved to Moscow, Russia where she is liveing and working at the moment. If you love her work as much as I do, you can see more at her website or her Instagram. She created Oscar Apollo, the adorable character featured in this piece, five years ago. I have fallen in love with Oscar, and you can check out his adventures on Instagram.
I sent Lelya my story, and she created this amazing painting inspired by it. I hope you like it, let me know in the comments below. If you are an artist or other creative person, and would like to collaborate as part of this series, please get in touch. Happy reading…
It’s just a story.
It began as a story told to children in order to make them behave, or a tale told around a camp fire, designed to frighten and scare. No one could ever provide a reliable source for the information within it, and it had always involved a friend of a friend or a cousin’s neighbour etc. It was an urban legend, a tall tale, fiction. No one actually believed in it, and yet, the images it conjured remained fixed within their minds eyes for years to come, occasionally manifesting as a reluctance to join in, or a fear of certain things, until they told it to their own children, and their children’s children, passing it on down the line for generations. Thus, it could never die, living forever on the tongues of story tellers and gossips.
The story, involved a child. The gender of the child would change, sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy, but they would always be young. Perhaps they had a name. The child lived somewhere isolated, like a small village in the country or some back water town, far off, where facts could not be corroborated. The child was lonely, or maybe they were naughty or perhaps simply curious. Either way, when they saw the large circus tent of red and yellow stripes being erected in the fields, they were excited and certain to attend. They would watch from afar, as performers practiced outside their caravans, or animals like horses and elephants, chewed their food and slept in the dirt. They would maybe even talk to one of the crew, in their strange, foreign clothes of colour and pattern, distributing leaflets and posting bills around the town. They would tell them to come and see, they would give them a free ticket.
In some stories, the parents of the child does not approve of such frivolities, or trust the strange performing nomads, and they would ban the child from attending. The child would of course sneak out after their bed time, down tree branches and trellis, and out into the dark. In other versions, the parents would excitedly plan a fun family evening together, or present the tickets as a gift. Always the child attends, and always, they end up separated, alone, unprotected.
There are acts of amazing bravery. A ring master who tames a lion using a chair and a cracking whip. A trapeze family, soaring at impossible heights, letting go off the bars to the gasps of the audiences before being caught again as the gasps morph into roaring applause. There are feats of strength. A strong man who picks up a chair in each arm, in which sit two audience members. An elephant balancing on a ball. And finally, there are jokes and comedy. Clowns tripping and falling, pulling endless handkerchiefs from pockets and throwing buckets of confetti. The air smells of saw dust, perspiration and pop corn.
The child becomes enamoured, separating from his family, wandering between the tents, seeking out the best views, the back stage banter. They will meet a figure, someone awe inspiring but also menacing, perhaps the ring leader with his stubbled chin and whiskey breath, or the clown with the running make up and missing teeth. They will promise the child adventure, fame, glory, love, everything their heart desires, everything their imagination can produce, everything they have ever dreamt off. But there is a catch, a condition, something minor to a child, something the ramifications of which are unknown to them. They must give a token, a treasured toy or a favourite book, or perhaps they must sign their name on a piece of crumpled paper, crudely written and incorrectly spelled because of their age.
It is a mistake, one with terrible consequences. The child becomes the property of the circus, another soul to tend the animals, clean up their shit, or perhaps to perform the dangerous tricks no one else wants to do, the knife throwing for example. The child tries to run, but cannot escape, there is too many. But surely their mother, their siblings will come looking? But the circus makes them forget. They forget the child’s name, their face, and they become just a feeling of deja vu when a certain toy is stepped on or book read. This is the curse, this is the punishment for their curiosity. They are servants, tied to the circus forever more. They will age and twist and bend to a bitter and cynical adult, who in turn will tempt and trap other children as some kind of revenge against the world. If they had to suffer, others should too. The circus will travel from town to town, moving with the mist, stealing souls, stealing lives. But none of this ever happened, because it’s just a story, right?