For a long time I harboured an irrational dislike of the landscape painter John Constable, based mostly on the fact that his paintings appeared on my grandparents’ ‘good’ place mats. To a kid inside on a hot day, marooned between the main and the dessert, Constable’s rivers and hedgerows looked damp, boringly British and disappointingly free of bandits. Years later I turned a corner at the National Gallery in London to encounter one of those paintings and nearly reeled back with its force: a terrific, seething paint-heavy thing – clouds like curds, peaty blacks, and a glitter hanging over it all. I doubt I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but here’s a rule to live by: Never trust a place mat.
—Justin Paton in How to Look at a Painting
Ah, the ‘good’ placemats. In my family it was McCubbin. So many birthdays and special dinners spent staring at McCubbin. And, because it was the 80s, we had glass plates so I could look straight at those bush scenes as soon as I finished my peas.