I’ve always wished I could draw. As a kid I’d watch my dad’s girlfriend sitting at her big slanted artist’s table, drawing grids and sketching out her work. I loved how she sharpened her thick pencils with a craft knife, the sweet-smelling curls of the coloured wood, the bruised white of her giant doughy erasers. It was like a sorcerer’s magic kit. But instead of the instant ‘alakazam’ of magic, her art was slow. It built up in lines and layers, you could see the subject appearing gradually, and my excitement would grow as I began to see the picture coming to life. Art has to be waited for. You have to be patient for it. I like that.

An artist friend of mine asked to draw me recently. I thought he was mental but I said yes. I felt strange knowing he was picking a picture of me to work from, though I would have felt stranger being in the same room as he did it, and I felt even stranger when I learned the picture would be hanging at an exhibition in New York. I felt naked. He is a wonderful artist and I love his pictures, but I couldn’t quite let myself look at the portrait he did of me. I felt shy that I had been drawn, and I felt shy that he had spent time capturing my face. Perhaps I was shy that the hours he had spent on it were hours looking into my soul without my being there. Like I’d left him in my bedroom rooting around while I went out.

That’s what art does I suppose. Communicates something of the soul that we can’t tell in other ways.

I met up with my friend for a drink this weekend and we talked a bit of art. I wanted to know how long the pictures took, if he felt differently when he drew people he knew and loved rather than strangers. We talked about art that moved us. I told him that when I had seen Michelangelo’s Pieta in Florence, the Deposition, I had been so overwhelmed by being able to get so close to it that I was overcome by gallery mischief. It was a small dark room. The newly dead Jesus was being held by Nicodemus and the two Marys, mother and friend. He embodies a part of all of us, lying there. Our wretchedness in life. We see ourselves in him. And I needed to touch what Michelangelo had touched. I had to. It was too close to me not to. I waited until the security guard was looking the other way and then I lay my palm on Jesus’s shoulder, let my fingers fall gently down his sinewy arm. When the security guard twitched his head towards me I let my hand drop and left. Once outside my hand felt warm. Glowing. I licked my palm because I didn’t want to lose the traces of it. I wanted to ingest it. I didn’t want it to be lost when I washed my hands. Me and Michelangelo, holding hands across the years. Art makes us feel. It stands before us, quietly commanding our hearts to work.

My friend told me that the portrait he’d done of me had been sold in New York. That a stranger now owned it. And whatever part of me he caught is now theirs. I’m out there somewhere, and have no control over what that stranger might see. It’s scary, but sort of freeing.