Although I’ve expended a lot of pixels on this blog in the business of gnawing peoples’ ankles (the inedible in pursuit of the unspeakable, to flip Oscar Wilde’s quip about English gentlemen hunting foxes) the book it spun off from also covers some of the oddities and strange pleasures of my profession. I thought it was time that I started sharing more things from this category, too.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter– and if you don’t you really should– will probably be familiar with my regular doppelgänger reports. Recent sightings resembled Bill Gates and Omar from The Wire (together on the Circle Line in London), Abraham Lincoln dressed like an Open University lecturer from the 1970s, and Hattie Jacques. James Brown used to cycle past the window of my flat nearly every day, with a Co-Op carrier bag and Toto (Dorothy’s dog, not the cheesy soft rock band of Africa/Hold the Line infamy) in the front basket. I think I must have some sort of malfunctioning near-reversal of prosopagnosia. Unlike prosopagnostics who can’t recognise anybody’s face, I momentarily think a lot of people look like somebody I either know, or know of. I don’t think there’s a word for it, so I’ll make one up: prosopgnostic, a “face knower.” I also regularly see people that I really do recognise and are who I think they are, of course.
In some strange way this also seems to work in reverse, because strangers often think they know me when they don’t. Perhaps it’s the way I look at them when I think I recognise them, and so on, mirror in mirror. People sometimes place an unwarranted amount of trust in me too, because apparently I look like I should be exactly wherever I am and I usually look like I know what I’m doing, with relatively little correlation to whether I do in fact know what I’m doing. I go into this in detail in the book, so I won’t repeat it all here. Buy the book!
Absolutely the best doppelgänger sighting I’ve had recently is of myself, in a painting from 1624. I was with two of my associates from Market Project at The Wallace Collection in London. I’d never been before. It’s definitely worth a visit. They’ve got loads of brutal, beautiful weapons and armour, a cafe with genuine ladies-who-lunch you would not believe, and lovely old paintings including Fragonard’s The Swing– which I somehow never realised was so Benny Hill and smutty until I saw it for real– and the (so-called) Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals.
Here’s where it gets strange, and not just because it was one of the most popular and widely diffused fine art images of the 19th century (for some reason). I genuinely didn’t notice and probably wouldn’t have thought of it, although I could not deny that I totally saw it once it was pointed out. I look exactly like the laughing cavalier. I was going to Photoshop it to prove my point. In fact I did Photoshop it and put my face onto him from a photo of me taken at the same angle, but there was absolutely no point in posting it because the shopped version still looked exactly like the original. In short, he just needs a pair of glasses and he could be time travelling me in 17th century Holland. Who knows, maybe in the future I do go back in time and decide to play silly buggers by posing in a portrait of me that my younger self will discover about four hundred years later. Frankly, it’s the kind of dickish and adolescent thing I’d probably do if I had the opportunity.
So, yes, for better and for worse this is more or less what I look like. My hair even goes all curly and bouffant like that if I don’t keep it short, and I know what a nightmare your hair is under that hat, mister. I’ve even been known to wear frilly collars and foolish facial hair of this kind. Check out my website for the incriminating photos. At the time of writing my Twitter portrait (and first image on my site) is me dressed up like Vincent Van Gogh with a bandaged ear, as seen in the painting of his in the Courtauld Institute. I don’t look like Vincent, but I did have all the necessary clothing, hat and bandages in my wardrobe. QED.
I tried to get in touch with the events people at The Wallace Collection, pointing out that I’d love to collaborate with them on something that capitalised on this serendipitous– miraculous, even– resemblance. They completely ignored me, probably thinking I was a random mentalist. Didn’t even return a “thanks, but no thanks.”
Possibly I am a random mentalist… but hey, I’m a professional mentalist. I’m dedicated to my craft. I always try to write back in a civil manner, even to people who are clearly not the full shilling. Talk about looking a gift horse rider in the mouth.
There you have it: a little insight into how ridiculous an artist’s life can be. When I say ridiculous, I’m not talking about requesting a meeting with an art museum because I’m a dead ringer for one of their paintings. The ridiculous thing is that doing things like this is usually effective.