By Gerald Wadsworth
Today marks the anniversary of Ian Fleming’s The Man with the Golden Gun, in which we find Bond on an assignment to the Caribbean to locate and eliminate Francisco (Paco) “Pistols” Scaramanga – a freelance assassin for Castro.
“What to paint?”…
This artistic conundrum happens a lot with Bond… even after five read and rereads of the novel, copious note-taking and numerous pencil sketches in my notebook… I was still at a loss. All the visual images that I painstakingly noted down – with page references and quotes – all seemed cliché and obvious. My SOP (standard operating procedure) involves lists and categories: cars, guns, cigarettes, liquor, food, accessories, clothing, foliage, animals, direct quotes, media references, signage… you name it… and I filled them up with this story. It was an evidentiary overload.
So I started all over again from scratch. I tried to ignore the elements I had previously referenced and tried to let my mind run free. Needless to say, it’s easier said than done… but then there was this flash… the imagery really needed to be about Scaramanga and the whys and wherefores of his criminal behavior.
Chapter Three – ‘Pistols’ Scaramanga – provided many clues as well as the working title of the painting. We find M reading the top-secret dossier on Scaramanga with a profile of his past and present activities as a hitman for Castro, the Mob, and the KGB.
The paragraph on ‘Origins’ was the clincher, and I could see yet another vintage poster in the works – this one an imagined version in Spanish that Scaramanga’s father ‘might have’ produced to advertise his Travelling Circus in Catalan and Trieste, and highlight the roles in which ‘Pistols’ spent – or misspent – his youth.
The section, ‘Motivation’ also supplied more visual potential with the incident that transformed Scaramanga from a misguided circus performer into a cold-blooded assassin. I could envision images on the poster of Scaramanga in his role as a trick-shot artist with his golden gun and as a Mahout – in “gorgeous turban and Indian robes” who rode the elephant “Max” about the ring.
The death of Max at the hands of the local police, and the subsequent shooting of the police officer by Scaramanga, was the catalyst that “transformed Scaramanga into the most vicious gunman of recent years.” The inclusion of Max the elephant was a must, and, since a circus really isn’t a circus unless there are lions, an image of the King of Beasts was de rigeur. Plus, a certain balance in design and imagery is crucial. So Leo El Rey filled the bill.
Because Scaramanga was working with the Cuban Secret Police – the DSS – visual references of Cuba seemed to go hand-in-hand with other elements that are mentioned in the book – so I included an expensive leather cigar case with the Cuban flag – a case, incidentally, that I bought some months ago “on a whim.” Cuban cigars that I brought back from my last trip to the UK gave me the perfect props to go with the case. My dad’s old Ronson lighter with Scaramanga’s initials engraved on the side seemed highly appropriate, as did the image of the zaftig Cuban girl – “Havana’s Finest” indeed!
Scaramanga travelled on a Cuban Diplomatic Passport, so research provided me with a vintage image that could be the platform for ‘things’ Jamaican to rest upon – since all the action of the story takes place in Jamaica.
Fleming is well known for introducing local colour into his stories, and he mentions diverse flora and fauna, including a Gekko lizard, lignum vitae trees with their blue blossoms, pink bougainvillaea, and yellow canna lilies. I enjoy having floral elements soften up some hard-edged imagery. So I included all three in the painting, and the Gekko was a perfect creature to be hungering for the Chopping Fly on the Cuban passport.
And peanuts… which elephants neither like nor eat… but patrons to the Circus love to buy. The sign for 3 1/2 Love Lane and the matchbook of the Thunderbird Hotel represent the beginning and the end, respectively, of Scaramanga’s relationship with Bond. A relationship that had M wondering if he had just signed James Bond’s death warrant…
Visit Gerald Wadsworth Fine Art – Painting 007 – The Art of the Narrative Still Life