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Antecedent

by Roy Christopher 9 months ago in art

...like a bird uncaged.

He held six discrete bits of information in his head simultaneously. No way to write them down so he recalled them in order on three separate occasions, six blanks in formation like a constellation. He awoke with only the memory of remembering, but not the information, his head a form unfulfilled.

An hour later, he was up and reading a well-worn library copy of Debord’s Pangyric over coffee. He put down the book and ran his hands through his greasy hair. His stomach grumbled. “Time to venture out,” he thought as he grabbed his jacket. His one-room apartment was strewn with similar texts: The Revolution of Everyday Life, Temporary Autonomous Zone, The Society of the Spectacle, The Adventures of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysicist. Not much to do but read when you’re chronically unemployed and can’t get away with stealing anything let alone a TV or cable. He’d done several short stretches of time for petty theft, check fraud, and impersonating a police officer, but it had been a while since the last job and the last bid. He fancied himself a revolutionary, a civil disobedient. He downed the last half of a cup of coffee, rinsed it, refilled it with tap water, and downed that. Then he grabbed his jacket and headed for the stairs.

Walking by a gallery down the street, he watched as an older gentleman loaded paintings into the space from a beat-up blue Econoline.

“Can I help you with those?”

The man barely looked at him but nodded.

He grabbed the next one from the van and walked it long-ways through the narrow doorway. The man he was helping never said a word as they filed the covered canvases from the van into the small gallery.

Walking in with the last one, he heard the van’s engine stutter on. Figuring that the man was moving it to a proper parking spot, he delicately ripped off enough of the packing paper from one of the canvases to see the work. He was aghast at the sight of it. It was like nothing he’d seen before. The colors, the shadows, the rhythms sang to him like a bird uncaged. He was seduced completely. If he were able to paint, this would be the statement he would make. Unable to help himself, he ripped open another one. The effect was repeated twofold. He began to sob as he set the second one upright. This one was larger and nearly vacant, having been washed over several times with white gesso. The few extant strokes and colors were exactly as he would have wanted them. He tore open another.

Lost as he was in the collection of art he had arranged on along the walls of the space, he failed to notice that the man he’d helped with them hadn’t returned. Their spell remained unbroken by the voice of the curator approaching.

“Hello… Sir?”

He hadn’t heard her, still examining the six paintings leaning against the walls, surrounding him: a tryptic along the longest wall, two tall ones opposite, and the biggest one on the back wall by itself: the blanks in order, just as he had remembered.

“Thank you so much for letting us show your work. Do you have an arrangement in mind? We’d like to get them up as soon as possible. The reception is in a couple of hours.”

Still trying to compose himself, he didn’t speak at first. Then, pointing around the three walls at the paintings there, he said, “Just as they are now.”

“Also, are you sure you don’t have anything in mind we could put on the marquee? We’ve left your name off as requested.”

“Thank you. That’ll do.”

“Okay... Will you be joining us tonight?”

He finally turned toward her. “I’m really not sure yet.”

She forced a smile. “Well, I hope to see you in a bit.”

He was hesitant to leave the paintings behind but stepped out into the evening air with a buzzing heart and head.

He stopped by a newsstand to check the paper for an article about the show he’d just taken responsibility for. Looking back through the weekend edition, he found it.

“Renowned Artist’s First Show in Over a Decade,” read the headline. The article said that the paintings had been created during nearly twelve years of total seclusion. After years of acclaim during which the artist felt he could do no wrong, he grew disillusioned with the art world. He decided to isolate himself and dig deeper, attempting to create a completely new form of painting.

“I’d say he succeeded,” he said to himself as he closed the paper. His stomach groaned again as he wondered if there would be free food at the opening.

Back at the gallery, the paintings were mounted just as he’d asked. The marquee out front read simply, “Artist’s First Show in Twelve Years.”

He walked in with borrowed confidence, but his smirk disappeared as soon as he saw the paintings on the walls. It was difficult to contain his emotions in the presence of such passion, such control. He stared into the strokes, mesmerized.

The curator walked in, startling him. He quickly stacked some cheese on a cracker and poured himself a glass of wine. Following his lead, she did the same.

“So good of you to join us,” she said over her glass.

He turned, finally acknowledging her presence.

“There was some doubt that any of us would get to actually meet you, given your lengthy seclusion and request to be alone while bringing in your work.”

“Well, I changed my mind,” he said smiling.

“The show is everything we expected and more,” she said looking at the two paintings on the wall nearest her, but when she turned back around, he wasn’t there. There was only his half-empty wine glass and half-eaten cheese and cracker tumbling to the floor beside her. “Where’d you go?”

“I’m right here,” he said, one painting to another, but she couldn’t hear him. He didn’t recognize his own voice. The peace in the paintings became panic in his veins.

Six discrete bits of information hanging in his head simultaneously. No way to write them down so he became them, six paintings in formation like a constellation. He awoke with only the memory of remembering, but not the information, his head a form with empty blanks. Six blanks now staring out from three walls, their form fulfilled.

art
Roy Christopher
Roy Christopher
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