Wednesday, September 22, 2021

My hero / Marion Coutts by Jenny Turner

‘This is a big task, mad for the late hour but it seems natural’ …
Marion Coutts. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

My hero: 

Marion Coutts by Jenny Turner

A friend writes about the artist whose remarkable book about her husband dying of a brain tumour, The Iceberg, has won the Wellcome prize

Saturday 2 May 2015


he other day, I was looking for something on the internet when I found a picture of Marion Coutts from 1989, wearing her famous Poll Tax dress: A-line and sacklike, NO POLL TAX in huge felt letters stitched all down the front. If you’ve read her remarkable book, The Iceberg, which won the Wellcome prize this week, you’ll know how good Marion is on bodies, dresses, artworks, foodstuffs, “material, solid objects … the consolation of the real”. If you remember what happens at the end of it, you’ll see why this picture was a shock.

In December 2010, Tom Lubbock, Coutts’s husband, was lying in Trinity hospice in Clapham, speechless and paralysed, dying of a brain tumour. She wanted to make him a blanket as a Christmas present, with her name, his name and the name of Ev, their little son, sewn on in big woolly letters. When I saw it I thought it was brilliant, yes, and deeply familiar: I’d forgotten about the dress at this point, I just saw Marion and her making of stuff in general. “This is a big task, mad for the late hour but it seems natural. The spontaneity of it feels familiar and exciting, like how we used to be.”

I would never say Marion was my hero, nor Tom either. Heroes are things of fiction, but these people were my friends. We all worked with Tom on his long essay, Until Further Notice I Am Alive (2012), and on the art reviews collected in Great Works (2011) and English Graphic (2012). He died in January 2011. Marion worked alone, as an aspect, I guess, of her mourning. She didn’t refer to what she was doing as writing. She saw it as more material, as text.

“The blanket is a gift for Tom. I know he will love it … I do the cutting fair enough and the stitching rough for speed. I will have the rest of my life to do it properly … I know I will be defeated but even at this late stage I try.


001 My hero / Oscar Wilde by Michael Holroyd
002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
046 My hero / Shelagh Deleaney by Jeanette Winterson
047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
054 My hero / Michael de Montaigne by Liyun Li
055 My hero / Michael Donaghy by Maggie O'Farrell
056 My hero / Richmal Crompton by Louise Crompton
057 My hero / Edward Thomas by David Constantine
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal
059 My hero / Sefton by Jilly Cooper

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer

250 My hero John Bayley by Richard Eyre


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