Quentin Crisp: Morning Talking, Step Sitting

Graphite and watercolor on paper

Day 253 and Quentin Crisp

Begin with the purple hat: a wide brim, tilted at a rakish angle. After the hat, turn to the face, a face removed from culture’s unaware noise, culture’s incessant noise. A face of elegance, poised in a moment of peace, a face rising itself away and above the world. A face that does not belong to our definitions of gender, a face that does not define itself by our world.

Below the hat, and face, is hair, swept up and back, is a jacket, a blue scarf tied around a neck, a purple pocket square, hands clasped in a gesture of balance. By the hands are bent knees, and below the knees and legs are purple suede boots. Embroidery adorns the boots, below the boots is a step, and then another.  

Quentin Crisp sits on the steps. All at once, he is removed from the world and an integral part of it. The genteel manner in which he sits calls to the stillness of figures in renaissance paintings. All at once his posture is of langur and keen awareness. He has seen the world before, he knows of its suffering, he knows of violence, he knows of self and solitude.

Remnants of Quentin Crisp appeared in my life before this morning, before I learned of his name, before I saw his angled hats, the elegance of his gaze. The first remnant came from music my parents listened to; Sting’s song “Englishman in New York” was often heard behind the goings on of my young life. The Englishman in question is Crisp who knew the singer and who appears in the music video

The second remnant came when I watched the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, a story about a person who’s life defies time and slips from one gender to another. The film adaptation did not spark the same inspiration within me that the book did. The movie lacked Woolf’s freeing depictions and internal processing.

Before this morning, I did not know that it was Quentin Crisp who donned the role of Queen Elizabeth. Crisp captured Woolf’s ability to unsettle you, make you question, and leave you comforted.

This morning, these remnants came flooding back to arrange themselves as a man, who sat on some steps, long before I was born and would ever know his name. He sat on those steps, he sat on the cusp of culture and self, and all these years later, he gave me a spark of inspiration.

(Note: A conversation this morning led me to a passage in Michael Harris book Solitude. The passage in question told of Quentin Crisp and Quentin Crisp led to memories.)

Quentin Crisp NYC 1992 Ross Bennett Lewis