Tonight, the artist is in his studio alone. He sits slouched in his chair, elbow resting uncomfortably on the arm, the upholstery worn to the bone, his fist pressing into his cheek.
He stares up at the row of large charcoal drawings he’s pinned to the wall. He studies them, scrutinising every thick, energetic, arching line, every frenetic scribble, every pressing scrawl. He’s looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is, doesn’t even know if he’d recognise it if he saw it. But he knows there’s a chance it’s there, hidden, waiting for him to find.
He grips tight on the charcoal stick in his hand, black dust crumbles onto his trousers.
Rubbing his other sweaty hand on his trouser leg, leaving five smudgy black lines down his thigh, he shifts in his seat. He’s not seeing it, not in these pictures. None of them remotely show a trace of it, the thing he’s spent years of his life trying to capture.
The shows, the galleries, the buyers, all of them were just a means to an end. He hasn’t had a show in almost a year.
It’s been like trying to remember the details of a dream after waking. It’s elusive and ethereal. He doesn’t want to manipulate the memory with his interpretation, he just wants to channel it through his body, to let his muscles remember the vision.
But today he could have sworn he felt closer to it. He was sure he’d glimpsed it, but then again that’s how he feels most days.
He knows the thing he’s striving for is universal. When he sees it, it’ll change everything, paradigms will shift from it. When it reveals itself to him he will unlock the secrets of the universe. It won’t be quantifiable , you won’t be able to measure it in numbers, it’ll be a truth that surpasses mathematics, that only some special part of us, separate from
the brain and body, but part us all the same, maybe the soul, but he doesn’t want to put a name to it, only that part will understand it.
Turning, he picks up his packet of cigarettes from the long table littered with sheets of drawings and broken
charcoal sticks. He places a cigarette between his lips, pads himself down, where did he put his lighter? He rifles through the pile of drawings on the table, looks around the studio but all he sees is half finished canvases leant against the walls, easels with works in progress, he realises all of this, all of what he sees, this is his legacy. This work, it’ll survive a lot longer than he will. He thinks it’s funny how people spend more time and money preserving art, inanimate objects, than they do trying to preserve their own lives.
There it is, his Zippo lighter, tucked precariously on the little brown ledge of the easel of painting No.803.
He needs to come up with better names for his artwork, that’s what his dealer keeps telling him. His dealer says this is why he’s having trouble selling them, he needs to be more poetic. His dealer doesn’t understand he doesn’t see his paintings as works of art in their own right. They are experiments. Attempts at striving for that perfect piece. Once he achieves that, he will name it, or try to name it, he can’t promise anything, it may not be up to him.
He lights his cigarette, inhaling and watching the end glow and burn towards him.
The painting he’s been working on for the past week is a commission, for some businessman, up town, some stooge with a corner office. His dealer at the gallery begged him to take it. He’s willing to pay a lot of money she said, it’ll keep him going until things pick up.
He paces up and down, from one end of his studio to the other.
The Artist, he hates the business side of things, he thinks how shallow it is. He thinks about the businessman. He thinks about his painting hanging in his corner office. He thinks how it’ll just end up as some conversation piece.
Hey, look at this painting I bought, see how rich and cultured I am, aren’t you impressed?
That stooge will never get it, he’ll never understand what he’s really trying to do. Maybe no one ever will. He can
barely understand it himself, it’s why he does it, to try to understand, to find it and just marvel at it.
Moving to the large window at the back of his studio, he rests his elbows on the windowsill and blows a cloud of smoke out into the night, listening to the peeling of tires on the wet tarmac from the street below. The city beeps and barks at him, sirens fade out into the distance. He imagines those stooges in their suits scrambling around in their skyscrapers like termites.
He’s so close to it, closer than he has ever been.
Looking above the concrete mounds to the stars above. The sky is infiltrated with an orange aura, spoiling the vast blackness. If only he could replicate that hue. That mysterious black of the night, the deep black of space.
Yes. That is what he must do. That black might be the key that will unlock reality, at least that’s what he hopes.
Flicking what is left of his cigarette and watching it briefly as it cascades through the air in a fiery streak. He
hurries to a collection of large, blank canvases leant against the wall. He grabs one, lifting it easily off the ground, it should be as heavy as it looks but it is not. He positions it attentively onto an empty easel, the void of whiteness towering over him. He collects up his paints and begins squeezing them out onto his palette.
Scooping up a lump of Hansa yellow light with his palette knife, he spreads it into Napthol Red, then he slaps in a splodge of Ultramarine blue blending them together. No. Its not right. He counters with a slab of Phthalo Blue, and adds Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow Deep. He thins out his mixture with some spirits. He whirls the palette knife through the viscous pigments until a bottomless, dark void appears on his palette. Perfect. He flicks through the collection of brushes poking from the empty jam jar on the drawing table next to him. He plucks a large, flat hog hair out. He loads up his brush and with a sharp flick of his arm he tears a black line across the canvas. Taking a step back and tipping his head to one side he calculates his next strike. He lunges forward, whipping the brush up in a semi circular motion leaving a glistening trail of dark oblivion in its wake.
He is so caught up in the movements, the moment, that he loses track of time.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been at it. He steps back from the towering canvas. By now covered in thick, criss-crossing black lines that curl and twine around one another. His hands and legs are trembling, he feels the sweat beading on his temple, this is it, he knows he needs to make the final mark, but how, and where?
He notices a tiny area up there in the top corner.
Dragging his ladder, still gripping the loaded brush in his other hand, he positions it in front of the painting. He
climbs the first three rungs, reaches his brush up, hovering it over the vacant area. The sweat now stinging his eyes, he closes them. With A blind twitch of his wrist he makes contact with the canvas. He stays there, not willing to open his eyes, not willing to move.
A deep reverberation rumbles throughout the studio, shaking his easels and rattling the wooden frames of pre-stretched canvases. He opens his eyes, gripping the ladder to save himself from falling. He doesn’t quite believe what he’s seeing. The black, painted marks are moving, squirming and uncoiling before him. The artist steps down from his ladder.
Sparks of thin electrical webbing shimmer and crackle across the canvas.
His lighter spasms on the table next to him, besides the fluttering stack of papers. The black brush strokes bleed onto the floor and snake their way towards him. He steps backwards until he presses himself against the cold glass of the window. The painting has become a dark, writhing portal of leathery tentacles reaching into this world from some nightmare world beyond.
Looking down, eyes wide at the black tendrils reaching now for his paint speckled boots.