Featured portrait artist: Paul Wright
[This is a pretty mild short. It is more of a thriller in the vein of Tales From the Darkside, or The Twilight Zone. I was a big fan of those shows when I was young, and this is sort of an homage to the genre. I hope you like it.]
“Please, have a seat. I’ve made us some tea. I hope you like Chamomile. I’m afraid we’re out of English Breakfast. It’s what I normally have, while my assistant prefers the Chamomile. She, however, is always out and I am always here. Makes me wonder why she insists on buying equal amounts of both when she does the shopping.”
The middle aged, bordering on old, curator flicked her hair and sighed as if running out of her favorite beverage was the worst thing that could happen. She lifted the tray with the tea set and brought it over to the ornamental wrought iron coffee table with a tempered glass top, where Di was seating herself in a matching blue velvet cushioned chair.
“Chamomile is fine, Miss D’Lor.”
“Ms., dear.” The curator replied, emphasizing the z sound so that it came out “Mizzz”.
“Sorry, Mizzz D’Lor. Have you had a bit of a think on what theme you would like me to exhibit? I have a lot of pieces to create a theme of History and Memory, but lately I have been getting outside more; so I have quite a few pieces involving Action and Location.”
Di didn’t know if she sounded confident enough to win Ms. D’lor over, but in art school she learned that in the business world of art, you needed to believe that your work was the most important out there, whether it is or isn’t. Apparently, she was finding out lately, it wasn’t and it was beginning to get under her skin and affect her attitude.
“Darling, please. You really must slow down. Have a sip of tea. Tell me about your morning. Mine has been ghastly; I’m needing to hear that someone else has it worse than I.” She flicked her back and laughed. Di, was beginning to feel hatred for this woman. Not an easy task.
“I’m teasing, Darling! It’s hard to imagine someone with more problems than I currently carry the weight of.”
Di squinted her eyes and smiled. Carla D’Lor mistook the look for one of sympathy, when in actuality it was an unconscious slip of sarcasm.
“Well, my mornings have been the same for months. Getting up early and preparing my work for the multitude of exhibitions I have planned.”
“Doubtless. Good for you! That makes me feel so much better!” The curator responded, feigning relief. She knew perfectly well this little mouse had nothing lined up, but she played the game.
“Excuse me? Why would you feel bad?” Di asked, knowing full well what was coming, and Carla heard the disappointment in the question. Suddenly, she really did begin to feel bad.
“Dear, I’m going to level with you. It pains me every time I need to have this conversation, and believe me when I say, it is one I have had many times. This gallery is visited often by very influential people in the art world. Its success depends on my absolute certainty of every artist’s work that I display here. Yours just doesn’t wow me.”
Di, looked down at her lap in disappointment. She tried not to show it, and thought that taking a sip of her tea would hide the fact. It didn’t.
“Oh, Dear. Don’t get me wrong. Your work isn’t bad, it’s just not spectacular.”
Di didn’t know if that was supposed to be helpful but it wasn’t. It was as if she had taken notes from a pre-recorded speech that had circulated to all the galleries she had been to in the past few months.
“Dear artist! We appreciate your effort but you suck. Get better and come back when you have something we can sell.” Was the condensed version.
“It’s alright, I understand. But if you’ll allow me to show you some of the pieces …”
“Ms. Stiles. Please. We both know what is going on here. We are playing polite, but what we both know is polite can turn bitter quickly. Before you start begging, allow me to offer you some advice.”
Di closed her mouth and resigned. The hate was settling in and getting cosy, but she was right. Damn her straight to hell if she wasn’t. Di’s dislike of this woman may have been justified, but her hatred was more directed at herself for not being good enough. She just wished that her skill could be pushed one more iota into the realm of great, instead of just good. She decided she would end this interview with dignity instead of the crying mess she had been when she stormed out of another curator’s office, three galleries ago.
“Anything you can offer me will be much appreciated, Ms. D’lor.”
“As I have said, and I mean this, your work is good. It is adequate. I have displayed art in this gallery that was well below everything you have shown me as far as skill is concerned. God knows, I have curated some of the worst art in this gallery, but here is where you are lacking. An artist’s (pronounced arteest’s) mentality.”
“I don’t understand.” Di was confused.
“Which is why, I can’t show your work here. Since I like you, I do … I think you are lovely, I will elaborate. When an artist is not naturally gifted in technical skill, they must make up for it in other areas, in order to sell their work. Or become teachers or, dare I say, curators. Yes, I was once like you. In fact, I became a curator in the hopes of one day displaying my own work. Twenty years later, and I wouldn’t dare destroy the reputation of my gallery by soiling the walls with my work. But I digress. If you are simply unable to wow them with your work, then you must wow them with your personality. Your vision. Make them see with their mind, what they are not seeing with their eyes. Better yet, make them see with their soul!”
“How do I do that?” Di asked.
She really wanted to know. This was good stuff. None of the other curators had gone to any length to make her feel better after rejecting her. Yet this woman was making sense. Her hatred for her was becoming uncomfortable.
“THAT, my dear, is for you to figure out. And I’m afraid if you don’t, then you are destined for the sort of life I lead, which isn’t all that bad, come to think of it. I get to work with the most brilliant minds in the art industry, and I love what I do. Even if it makes me want to tear out my prematurely greying hair.”
This made Di smile. Her hatred slammed its fists on the comfy chair it had planted in and got up to leave. Sensing that she had at least eased the girl’s mind, Carla D’Lor decided it was time to see her out.”
“I hope you understand, but I have another appointment coming in shortly. I swear my days never end. This was nice. You are welcome back anytime. Call ahead. Allow me to escort you to the door.” She said standing up and straightening out the non-existent wrinkles in her grey suit pants.
Di took the cue and stood up. Ms. D’Lor came around the table and placed her hand on her back and applied the slightest pressure that said Come on now, off you go. Hatred may have fled, but dislike would not be leaving this party anytime soon. Ms. D’Lor offered some more suggestions in their last moments on the way out.
“Might I suggest a new look, Darling? Dress for success. Hipster only works for those who don’t know that it’s working. Be smart, look the part. There are no rules that say you have to look eccentric to be an artist. Thank you for coming, Ms. Stiles.”
The door softly closed behind her, and Ms. D’Lor was gone before it thumped to rest. Di looked down at her dress. She didn’t consider herself a hipster, nor did she try to dress the part. She was wearing a red, yellow, green floral patterned on a white background sundress. It was her favorite dress, and she put it on to help with her mood. She grew more sombre these last few than she was comfortable with; sneaking ever closer to full on depression.
“Now what am I going to do?” She asked the sky.
The few clouds that were swirling this way in that in the, otherwise, blue and sunny sky, ignored her question and kept doing what they do best. She closed her eyes and let her curly, dark brown hair catch the light breeze. She tried to think of what her next move should be, but she had not created a plan G. She hadn’t created a D, E, or F, for that matter. She had been flying by the seat of her pants for the last two weeks.
As she stood their enjoying the wind, despite the fact that she was completely out of ideas, she was interrupted by a strange sounding voice.
“Ecshcewsze me, Mish.”
She snapped out of her fugue and faced the source of the voice. An old man with the clichéd look of a hobo. Dirty, ragged layers of grey and brown clothing. Torn in some places, patched in others. Grey beanie hat, covering a head full of long silver, splaying out the sides. He had a scruffy silver beard, that hadn’t seen the working side of a new razor in years, and when he spoke, Di saw that he was missing some of his front teeth, and the ones that remained were on their way out as well.
The man was pushing a shopping cart full of canvases. Paintings that he had acquired from trash piles, or simply donated by disenchanted artists. She was half tempted to ask him home so she could add to his collection.
“I’m sorry. Am I in your way?” Di asked, and stepped aside.
“Oh no. Not at all. I wasz going to ashk you if you would like to buy a painting. Itsh for a good cawszh.”
“I’m sure it is, but I’ve got plenty of my own. I’m having a hard time selling my own paintings, as well. But I’ll donate to your cause, anyway. Give me a second.” She opened her purse and dug for her wallet.
“Oh. That ish sho kind of you, Mish. Thanksh sho muchsh!” The old man said, and began sifting and sorting through his canvases.
Di opened her wallet and saw that she only had a twenty left. Then she realised, mentally smacking herself, that it was all she had left from the loan she took from her mother. She didn’t even hesitate pulling out. She held it in her hand for a split second and then stepped towards the homeless man still going through his paintings.
“Here you are.” She offered him the money.
The old man finally found what he was looking for and pulled out a 10” by 12” canvas and handed it to her. He took the twenty with his other arthritis deformed hand.
“Oh, sir. That’s not necessary!” Di said.
“Nonshensh! I don’t do shumthin for nuthin! You can shuck it in the bin when you get home if you don’t like it, but I haff a feelin that you won’t do that. Not ta thish one!”
The old man turned away from her, pocketing the twenty, and got back behind his cart and began to push it past her. He stopped momentarily.
“The world needsh more people like you, Mish. Have a wonderful day.”
“Yea, you too.” Di told him.
Di watched him go and was struck by a thought that made her laugh loudly.
I wonder if he is curator. He would probably reject me, too.
Although, the thought made her laugh, it nearly made her cry. But her dignity wouldn’t allow that until she was safe in her over-priced under accommodated apartment in the upper east side of New York City. It was the best she could do on her coffee-house salary, another cliché. When she got there she tossed the canvas on the pull-out sofa bed and struggled to hold back the tears until she could find her cat, Sergeant. Too late. Sergeant was nowhere to be found, and they were coming whether she had a shoulder or not. She tried to distract herself by rationalizing that cats didn’t like water anyways.
It didn’t work and she plopped her butt in her comfy chair and her head in her hands and tried to wash away her defeat with a fresh bout of boohooing. Sergeant showed up from his quiet place under the sink and took pity on her, at least, jumping up into her lap and settling down for a long therapy session.
“What am I going to do, Sarge?” She asked the cat.
Sarge looked up at her as if to say, Cuddles and lovin is why you feed me, but I don’t do problem solving.
“It’s no wonder you can’t get work! You are the epitome of the term “Starving artist”. You have no passion. No vision.”
“What? Who said that?” Di asked.
She looked at Sargent. He just lifted his ears a bit and closed his eyes, miffed that she dared to stop stroking his fur.
“I did. And I might add, I do not appreciate being tossed like a rag doll. It was bad enough bouncing around in that old man’s bloody shopping cart with the other rubbish he’s collected. Though, I must say, some of the work had more feeling than anything in this apartment, didn’t it?”
“Excuse me?! I have poured my heart and soul into my art. Who the hell are you to judge … me?” She began, indignantly, but then Oh no. This is it. I’m crazy now. Wonderful!
“Oh, give me a break. You sound just like I did the first time I had this very same conversation, don’t ya?”
The voice was male with an English accent. Di nearly labelled him Irish, but had a friend from the western country, outside of Bristol, England. This accent sounded just like his.
“Peter? Is that you? Are you having fun with me? If so, this isn’t cool.” She stood up and looked around. Sergeant flopped to the floor and stretched each of his hind legs one at a time and went to his food bowl.
“I don’t know this Peter, but if you want to speak face to face come over to the sofa.”
Di threw up her hands and let them fall. At least you get three square meals a day in the loony bin as long as you remember to share in group.
She walked over to the sofa.
“The painting, lass! Come on! If you really think you’re going insane, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think the canvas you chucked is now talking to you, would it?”
“I guess not.” Di answered, despondently.
She picked up the canvas that landed face down on the sofa and turned over to see whom it was, speaking to her. It was a painting of young man. Probably in his twenties. When the voice returned, the painting was animated. It was like holding a window frame and speaking to someone on the other side of it. Only this someone appeared under a filter of brushstrokes and a store bought color palette.
“There, that’s better now, ain’t it? I have a proposition for you. I will make you a deal, love. I help you become a successful artist, and you free me from this bloody prison painting, yea? What say you?”
“How are you going to help me? You’re just a painting.” Di asked.
“Well you’re just a broke mediocre artist now, aren’t you? Do you want my help or not?”
“What if you fail?”
“I won’t, will I? What have you got to lose? As far you’re concerned, you’ve just lost your sanity. What else is there?”
“You have a point. Fine it’s a deal. So what’s the plan picture man?”
“Well, for starters, we need to work on you. Not your paintings. Your work is acceptable willy nilly, but your persona is quite lacking. This is how we are going to do things from here on out, ain’t it.”
One year later, and Diana Stiles is escorted to the entrance of the high-rise apartment building in Chelsea, by one of her assistants.
“Thank you, Daniel. I’ll see you tomorrow. You, my friend, are getting a raise and a well-earned vacation.”
“Thank you, Ms. Stiles. Oh, by-the-way, Ms. D’Lor gave me this card for you and says congratulations. She says your work is spectacular.”
This made Di grin until she thought her mouth would crack the sides of her face.
“Just put them with the rest. I’ll have Carrie, send out thank you cards tomorrow. Have a good night, Danny-boy!”
“Good evening to you, as well, Ms. Stiles.”
Di walked through the lobby, greeted the security guard, and made her way to her personal elevator. She spoke the word “Open” and the voice recognition security system automatically opened the doors to the elevator and she rode it up to her penthouse apartment.
She walked in, kicked off her red designer heels, and headed straight for the kitchen where she poured herself a nice glass of Bordeaux. From there it was straight to the bedroom, out of the red designer evening dress that came with the heels and into bed.
“Well? How did it go?” The painting was hanging on the wall in her walk-in wardrobe.
“It was wonderful! I’m a success. All thanks to you. “Distress” sold for two point three million. Carla told me the sale nearly came to blows in an all-out bidding war while I sipped champagne in the gallery.”
“Smashing! Told you, didn’t I?”
“Yes you did. Cheers!”
“Well then, this is it, isn’t it? You are a raging success, and now it is time for you to hold to your end of the deal? Frankly, I just can’t stand another minute in this … cloth.”
Di, thought about it. He was right, she really didn’t need him anymore. He had taught her how to play the arteest. When she was unable to comprehend what needed to be done or how to proceed, she could channel his spirit, essentially allow him to possess her and ease her ever closer to her goal. Lately, though, she had not needed this intervention, as she had become what he was molding her into.
“Alright, picture man. You have fulfilled your part. What do I need to do?”
The man in the picture smiled before answering.
“You’ve already done it. It was a bloody pleasure and a privilege, Di, wasn’t it? Just relax and have a good night sleep. You’ve earned it, haven’t ya?”
“It’s Diana now, and yes, I certainly have. Good night.”
“Good night, love.”
The next morning Di opened her eyes and the first thing she saw shocked her to tears. She was staring at the clothes, as they hung in her wardrobe. She looked down and saw all the shoes she had collected in the past year, but was unable to move or to even look away. Horror struck her as she realized she was inside the painting, and she began to scream until she could scream no more.
What seemed like years later, but was only actually days, people began to clear out the wardrobe, in preparation for the new tenants. She begged and pleaded with the workers to help her. To let her out, but it was no good. They couldn’t hear her. She was just a painting. And not a very good one at that. At one point, a man had lifted her off the wall and placed her face down on top of a stack of her other paintings and hauled them out to a truck that was waiting in the street outside of the building, but she didn’t make it. The man carrying the paintings didn’t notice when the smallest of the stack had slipped and fallen to the pavement.
But someone did notice. The shopping cart paused and two gnarled hands reached down and picked up the painting, brushed off the dirty street sand, and looked over his new find.
“You? You did this to me? YOU DID THIS TO ME! YOUUUUU!”
But he couldn’t hear her. He never heard them. It wasn’t his job to hear them, nor was it his problem. He placed the canvas in the shopping cart with the others, while Di silently lost her mind. It’s alright, though. One day she will find it again. She will use what she has learned to make a deal.