The Downward Search for Nuance
Looking down on it, as I so often do, the room seems alive. A bit dark, but that's only because the man who lives there has went out to get dinner and has shut all the windows and doors, save mine, so as to guard against burglary. Normally it is so vibrant. Maybe that is why my mind resides there. I can find the vitality and freedom that is lacking in my actual surroundings. And even though I do nothing but gaze down into that window during the evenings, I feel as though I lived there for years.
And maybe I really do. When I step out of my front gate every morning, I switch my perception so it seems to me that I am leaving a door on the opposite side of the road. And then my day progresses from there. I catch the bus as if all my belongings and my heart were left back there. And since I thought of the place so much. I decided it needed a name besides 'there,' so I started calling it home.
I loved to talk of home. Everyday at work I would discuss all the events of the evening. Whether friends stopped in, what we drank, ate, and how it was a relentless night of creativity. They all envied me, that. It was an emblem I wore with pride. I was just doing this admin thing to have a steady income, to allow me to paint. All my inconsistencies were excused and some times I could even duck a bit of work because I was in a state of exercising my artistic capabilities. Really, all was forgiven, as long as I had my stories of my flat. They all longed to be invited, to be able to take part in the festivities of my evening. And I had every intention of getting around to having them all over. But it was such an obstacle, as the man who lived there might be out on the town, and what good would it have served to stare at the closed shutter all night?
Not that I hadn't done exactly that on many occasions, but the girls at the office were all thrill-seekers. They liked their fun already manufactured for them. I don't think they would be able to sit alongside of me on the balcony and reach the heights of fantasy that I found in that dark room.
I really did prefer those nights when he wouldn't be at home. I liked to picture myself existing there, at home, in the dark. Those were the times when my physical reality could be juxtaposed most carefully with my mental existence. Because what would I be doing except sitting on the terrace, staring across the way, never minding to switch on a light when it became dark. There was no need, I wasn't looking at a thing. Except the vision inside my head.
What would I do at home, in the dark? Well, simple things. I had quite an affinity for sitting in the big turquoise armchair in the far corner, to reflect upon my day's work. Which at first really would be his work, but then as I spent more and more time at home, the paintings began to be mine. I liked mine better than his, anyway. He had such a violent palette. He was always heaping on this unbelievably shattering red. Every time I bumped into him in my mind, which was quite often seeing as how we were sharing the same habitation, I always wanted to tell him that he was losing the effect. Violence played over and over again, never offends as it did the first time....the red was an accent in his composition. And I know that shocking wasn't his aim.
I had often watched him paint the red. He loved that red. It came from somewhere deep within him. I had really come to enjoy when it was time for the red. He would begin rushing around the small apartment, tidying up. I think he was afraid that a bit of dust might blur his pigment. But maybe he had a legitimate reason to include sprucing up as part of his red ritual. Then he would begin with his containers. That man truly loved things in which he was able to put things. It would always be a special set of containers that got to hold the precious red. I often thought, as I watched him fiddle in preparation, that his real fortune wasn't in applying any multitude of various pigments to a canvas; it was in the mass-production and marketing of this one color. It was where the locus of his joy was. And in my estimation, where most of his talent lay. But to be sure, in modern times, a man could never feel that his life was complete if all he did was make red.
On he goes with the preparations. The only reason it takes so long is because he is a hedonist. He needs to prolong the pleasure. Is that because he is an artist, or is he an artist because of it? I can't quite say, but the two conceptions reside side by side within our general consciousness. When I get lost within a cup of tea at the office, they always say my artistic side is showing. But I wasn't in the act of creating a damn thing. Just trying to lengthen the ephemeral taste of a fine mixture of honey, lemon, and tea. And to give him the same credit, he is just making sure that everything is ready so that he can enjoy the mixing of his pigment to the utmost.
Now it is time for his prize possession. He goes and takes it down from the wall. Unfortunately it is not one of his best canvases. None of his work could ever be that valuable. It is only the framed copy of his recipe for red. After duly fondling the frame, he commences. He always starts with a bit of black. Then goes on to mess around with yellows, greens, blues, and pink. I am sure that the straining contrast of the black base and pink overtones are what make the red so vibrant, so violent.
After he mixes up a characteristic small batch of red, he goes on to apply it, to his current canvas, which has surely lost any significance it might once have possessed, in the enduring process of preparing the red. He never seems to realize how futile his painting is. But we all have our little ambitions, and no one can tell us anything concerning their fruition.
During the long hours I spend watching him paint, I wonder now and again, what his motivation is. What causes him to go through this endless cycle of construction and disappointment. He paints primarily in abstraction, not because of an urge to explore form and color in basic states. He fails dismally at representation. Couldn't paint a human figure if the King of Spain was to commission one. So he is left with abstraction, where he has just as many problems. His randomness always looks contrived. And when he has some principle in mind, the end result is chaos.
I imagine during his eighteenth year.... He fell in love, she considered painting important, and that was his legacy.
There were many nights that I had parties at home. We would all gather around before going out to drink or dance. We were always talking about the arts, for my group had musicians and authors as well as fellow painters, but none were ever getting anywhere. Anyone secretly observing our scene would have wondered at the futility of it. But in calling yourself an artist, you get to wear a cloak of profundity in your profession. The rest of your time is spent in superficially following your appetites. All in the service of your art-form, naturally.
Harry, the writer, was always the center of the turmoil. He truly led the life of a satyr, a virtuous satyr. Only because he respected women to such a degree, could he delight in such pleasure from them. He was a great one for getting a gathering all fired up. While he was narrating his tales, he would waltz around causing people to participate in his tales. And he would really captivate. He would draw verbal portraits of your average Joe and put him in unbelievable circumstances, to which he would react humanly. Never fairy godmothers or princesses in his stories, only undiscovered artistes, occupational vagrants, and misled scholars.
With controversy firmly anchored, he would wind up his tale and begin pursuing whichever femme had pricked his senses. His tastes were extravagant and hearty. And once he finished his performances, groups all about the room would take up the loose threads and wind them for their own benefit. He was a man, so full of tales, that he could have enriched the whole world, and I had quite a feeling he would someday - through his painted words.
All the rest of those in my gatherings were rather minor characters, unfortunately having enormous egos over talents they could never manifest. Often discussions rose to a fever pitch. I guess it was part of the excitement of dealing with artistic temperaments. The girls at the office enjoyed hearing about the conflicts during the parties. I have a sneaking suspicion that their interests were quite pruriently voyeuristic. They got a thrill from the vigorous language that flew unimpeded the previous night.
“So how did all these people come to be in your circle?” Ellen asks me one morning.
I tell her that artists just
congregate together. You notice someone acting as you do and talking
as you would, and you bond as acquaintances become friends. She
bought that. But truthfully I don't know much about these people. I
spend my nights with Harry, I know his name only because he is such
a lively sort that someone always squeals out his
The others are purely extensions of myself in their roles.
This work of fiction was written in September 1990 when I lived in Madrid. It is pure synchronicity that it was part of some papers I'd been ignoring for weeks, as I sort through my storage unit. There are themes revealing my yearning to comprehend when so much of life was to be decided, especially as I spent my days surrounded by a language I didn't really understand. I feel indebted to Pascal Derrien, Laura Mikolaitis, and Jesse Kaellis for priming me to notice - quite literally - that I have some stories to share.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction prohibited without express written permission from Deb Helfrich © 2016.