Monday, 10 March 2014

The Christmas Twins

The dancing crocheted garments of the Christmas twins.

The twin brothers Greg and Gary Christmas were born in Boston in 1931/2 (two seconds before and after New Year's Eve), a striking mixture of Afro and Native American origins. They toured the world in show business, dancing with The Supremes, Tina Turner, Diana Ross and much more, then finally settled in Amsterdam, where they served coffee and snacks in their highly colourful Backstage Boutique, dishing out bawdy humor, gems of personal wisdom, uncanny spiritual insights or surprising kindness to all comers. "Yeah, yeah, our mother's name was Mary Christmas". "You want my coffee or my body?"  For a while, my studio was situated near their café, so we became good friends. Inevitably, I dashed off a watercolour, as they gazed out of the window, commenting on the passers-by. "Oh, not her again! Hey, he's hot!" They liked my painting. "Not bad for a white man!"
Gary (left) only had three and a half fingers on the hand that crocheted the most snazzy dresses, skirts, tops, hats, even flowers. "It's show-time, honey - what's your sign?  Okay try this one on!" Greg (photo below) would supervise critically.
Their garments looked great on skins of all colour and one of their black friends modelled these fanciful creations as she danced for me at the studio. I used watercolour and oil crayons to make the garments unravel, jive or move across the page to various jazz classics, taking lots of liberties with the lyrics as they became more or less integrated into the picture.
Sophisticated Lady. And "You can have what you want if you handle what you got". 
"Ain't got no rest in ma slumbers, ain't got no feelings to bruise; ain't got no telephone numbers, ain't got nothing but the blues. Ain't got no coffee that's perkin', ain't got no winnings to lose, ain't got a dream that is workin', ain't got nothin' but the blues". As she stares hopelessly out of the window, I've turned her "dress" into a veil of sorrows. A real blues painting.
"Gimme a rhythm, gimme a beat, Gimme a rhythm, turn on the heat. I wanna be hot, I wanna be bad, I wanna be someone you wish you had". She's "wearing" a crocheted skirt that has got carried away with the jumping, barely legible lyrics. My oil crayons were really hoppin' with that rhythm.

I thoroughly enjoyed pushing my limits with this series - very saucy indeed for a shy English country boy whose headiest youthful experience was Worcestershire Sauce. Here's the link to those early days. This work might seem a far cry from the ethereal emotions of Kylián's modern dance with classical and contemporary music. But I'm having fun with lines and marks, tapping a different gut-level rhythmic energy, possibly long-hidden, laced with humorous mischief.

There were more paintings in this 1989 series, but in those days I was also hopping between Amsterdam and The Hague for other creative work with the Netherlands Dance Theater, to Birmingham for the first discussions with Simon Rattle for a performance and with the BBC for the television documentary about my life with music: Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra (1993). 

Gary and Greg are now undoubtedly in major show business on other planets, but they became a legend in Amsterdam's multi-cultural society and for tourists looking for quirky entertainment or spirituality, between the seventies and 2009. They left an indelible impression on this artist too. I miss them.


  1. I was feeling nostalgic for some of my friends (even if they are no longer with us physically) as I am heading over to Amsterdam this week. So I Googled Christmas Twins and your site came up. I recognized your painting, of course. I met them in 1972 and they were a huge part of my Amsterdam life and would see them for a few weeks every year or year and a half, when visiting family. When my marriage crapped out and a number of negative things occurred at the same time I went to Amsterdam in late 1999 to rebuild my life. Gary and Cindy were wonderful and such a great help and I saw them every day for 6 months. I am so lucky to have had dinner with the two of them about a month before Gary passed. Still have a hat Gary gave me and a picture of Ruby and lots of pictures and memories. I stop by the old shop every time I am in the city, for a few minutes, to reminisce......even if it has I do my school,the house where I was born and Hagenius. Thank you for your story.

  2. Yes fabulous people i met them when i was a dancer in the Daisy Dynamite Show at the Caliente Club

  3. These two are my cousins! I finally learned about them from my older cousin and begin googling about them.. so happy to have stumbled on your blog. Thank you for writing about them. This is so beautiful.