I bumped into Astra Howard in the street a few days ago. It was really good to see her. I have a very high regard for Astra, both as an artist, and as a human being. I first came across Astra when she was in the photograph. There was a little tobacconist's kiosk by the railway station that had been vacant for a while. I saw a crowd around the kiosk, all very animated, and obviously interested in something inside.
The center of their attention was a tall woman, very beautiful, dressed in white. Although I am sure Astra gets lots of attention for being tall and beautiful and well dressed, that was not what was causing the excitement. It was what she was doing.
The kiosk largely consisted of glass panels. Astra had locked herself inside the little compartment and was surprisingly rapidly writing messages on the glass with a black marking pen. The remarkable thing was that she was writing backwards, so that those outside could see the messages the right way round. She was writing backwards faster than many people can write forwards. And with every word the crowd would follow what she was writing. The words would be read aloud, and guesses taken as to what the complete sentence might turn out to say. The crowd was enchanted and it was obvious that they were puzzled as to why this would be happening.
I myself can recognize a performance at a hundred paces and stood back enjoying the total spectacle. I never did get to find out what she was writing, it didn't seem to matter compared to the way she was engaging her audience. I was at the time busy with organizing an upcoming art festival, and I wanted to talk to Astra. Of course I didn't know her name at that time, but I wrote the words "phone me" on a card and slipped it through a crack in the kiosk wall. She saw it looked at me and nodded and went on writing.
She called the next day, and eventually she became an important part of the festival with several performances.
When I saw her in the street last week she gave me her card. She is working. It seems like most of us she has to get on the treadmill for paying bills rather than devoting all her time to art. It is a cruel world.
It was a lovely surprise to see her. She is a very special woman.