...You know the the drill: Monday to Friday – Work to be able to have a bed, fill the stomach and then get on with some proper stuff on the free days…for me that meant spending Friday to Sunday night in a run down building in the centre of the City, which I pay £30 a week for what I call it my art studio, but I can paint whatever I like – stuff that is never seen by anyone – stuff that means more to me than just meat and veg on the table… it was finally Friday. I’d dragged myself home from work, took off my uniform, fed my face then took a very hot shower, just to remove the weeks invisible layer of capitalism from my body…
…I then dressed for the weather and went off to the studio with new supplies of oil and brushes. Making sure I bought a six-pack and a packet of skins from the corner shop on the way. I was anxious, yet impatient to get to the studio to see what I’d done the previous weekend. I’d accepted the cold and the damp of the place with a stoic resistance these last winter months, the thermal fire imitation unit provided me with enough sustainable heat to work i relative comfort. The lighting was adequate, I painted with my mind not my eyes, I told myself. That single strip light hanging by chains from the ceiling had proven its trustworthiness. It was a state of artistic revelation I was after, not to witness what happens on the canvas at the point of doing it. Seeing was something I did after painting, not before and certainly not during.
I was totally hooked on that feeling of freedom, one that I got to be as self-interested as I wanted to be. To be without a worry about being paid money for my efforts, as I did in my day job. It wasn’t making money that art was all about – for me it was the ecstasy of the creative act itself, which helped make my other day to day life that more tolerable.
The smell of oil paint was my drug of choice.
That particular Friday evening, I began with my usual routine. I put the electric fire on, cleaned my brushes and cracked open a can of lager. Put all the paintings on the floor, walk around them in turn, examining them one by one. Second viewing my paintings was always exciting, until I spotted an area that I wasn’t happy with. And as usual, I lined all the painting up on the wall to critic them more intently. The end resolution was always the same. ‘The need to repaint them all over again’. It was at was one these regular new starting points when an uninvited visitor arrived. I’d barely laid a stroke on the canvas when a voice from behind me spoke.
“Starting again? – I’ve started over more times than even I care to remember. Always its begin, finish, begin, finish, start again – over and over – Oh my God – what a game it is!”
I turned around to view a man in a brown overcoat, a black hat and a pair of round glasses that were perched on top of a sizable nose – He donned a black bushy mustache and had a cigarette dangling from his lips. I looked at him silently for a second or two. His hands and arms were raised up slightly in a familiar gesture of perplexed acceptance of the fait-accompli. I made the usual polite yet firm enquiry…
“Err, sorry, who are you and how did you get in?”
“Your name is on my list of visits, the door was unlocked.” He replied.
He pulled out an A4 piece of paper from his inside pocket and confirmed he had the
right name and address.
“If you’re from the tax man- I don’t sell anything..and I can prove it.”
I said in a panic.
“Relax, I’m interested in your outcome my boy, not your income.”
Before I could react he asked me a question.
“So, by starting over you think you can better what you have already done?”
My reply was said as a strong indignant statement.
“Yes, I do – besides thats my choice, why ask?”.
He pulled on his cigarette and blew out a cloud of blue smoke. He walked up to the paintings still propped up on the wall and knelt in front of them.
As he looked at them he made small upturns of his nose, which gave the illusion of the cigarette following the brush strokes on the canvas.
“So, do you paint your inner self in these?” He asked.
I pulled out of the conversation quickly.
“What exactly are you here for?” I asked him.
“Maybe I’m here to help you?” I assumed my negative position.
“How?” I said with abrupt dislike of his implied offer of charitable help.
“Like, you can tell me how to paint?” I said with a laugh.
He looked at me with his big brown eyes as he blew out another cloud of blue smoke.
“Who, besides me, has seen your work?- I didn’t respond.
“Ah ha, as I thought- no one.” He said with air of arrogance.
“How do you know the communication has been transmitted…without a viewer?”
He asked which raised my curiosity and I tempered any further irritable feelings towards him.
I moved over to my electric kettle switched it on and asked if he would like
“a cup of tea? – “Or -perhaps a lager?” I said with a smile – He denied both offers.
I sat on my chair and cracked open another can and after a quick gulp gave him my position on my art.
“Look mate, I don’t who you are, or who you represent, but I paint for me and no one else.” He looked at me over his round glasses.
“But of course, so why else to paint?”
He walked around to my back and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“What is the point of paintings that nobody can see?”- I shook my head.
“You paint for you- which means indirectly your paintings are for all.”
He said, walking around to face me again.
“You paint what you feel, what resides in your emotional state – what is worth communicating – do you not?”
He asked and walked away to squat on the floor with his back to the wall.
He pulled on his cigarette again only this time allowing the smoke to escape from the sides of his mouth. I decided to make a stand against his implied lack of responsibility on my part.
“No, I paint for me – when I paint I think about my life, about my past, my loves, my family, ones that are no longer here – I paint for self enlightenment – for my own humanity. Not for everyone to trough over my feelings like some sort of emotional ‘E’ driven rave party.”
He stared at the ceiling.
“When people cry in front of a painting, they are feeling what was felt when the artist painted it. It’s a human need, to transmit and receive emotion, it’s what makes us human.”
“Who the hell are you?” I said becoming increasingly uneasy.
He answered with unsolicited advise.
“The best thing you can do is become a full time artist.” He said as he straightened his back and rose from the floor. “What is the point of pussy footing around?
You work for money all week, then paint at weekends for what, for why?
What’s the point of continually painting and repainting the same image for no one, except yourself ?”
At this point I’d already to come to the conclusion that this was a set up. Maybe a work colleague had arranged this visit. None of them understood why I isolated myself at weekends just to paint and repaint my images. I always refused to show them what I did. They all thought I was OK, but a little crazy. The visitor must be one of those ‘speak-a-grams’ you can hire.
I was sure of it and decided to go along with the gag.
“OK, Mr Smart arse you tell me why I should paint for others and what I should paint and I’ll listen – before chucking you out.”
I sat down in my chair and opened yet another can of lager.
The visitor waited for me to settle before he began what I believed would be some sort of piss-take culminating in my work friends busting into my studio and shouting ‘surprise’. The visitor looked at me and walked up and down the studio- probably trying to remember the script he had been given- I smiled to myself in the hope he would screw it up.
He drew on his cigarette, blowing the smoke from his nose as he looked at me, then at the ceiling before he began his dialogue.
“A painting is not about experience. It is an experience.
There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. You paint abstraction and yet I will say, without reservations, there can be no abstractions. Any shape or area that does not hold the pulsating reality of real flesh and bones, its vulnerability, its pleasure or pain, is nothing at all. Why just be interested in the relationships of colour or form or anything else. Be interested only in the expression of basic human emotion. Tragedy, ecstasy, destiny and so on.”
He paused and took a long drag of his cigarette.
“Any picture that does not provide the environment in which the breath of life can be drawn should not interest you. The most important tool the artist perfects with practice is the faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed.
Pictures must be miraculous, the instant it is is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider.”
He stopped talking and walked around the studio stopping in front of my painting speaking whilst he looked at them closer. “What about me” I shouted – “My need?”
He looked over his shoulder at me.
“Of course a painting must be for him, the artist, as for anyone experiencing it later, it maybe a revelation, or an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of a familiar need, perhaps happiness?”
He turned away from my work and walked up and down again.
“It’s a risky business to send a picture out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent who could extend their affliction universally.”
He then stopped talking, smiled and thought for a second.
“The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, between the idea and the observer.” He looked at me and turned away again.
“If the paintings remain a secret, you will never be fulfilled and condemn yourself to painting the same bereft image over and over – until the day you die.”
He looked at me again and almost in unison we said…
…“its takes courage to be an artist.”
All that I remembered later, was waking up in the chair with empty beer cans all around me. It felt as if I had been asleep for days.
In the shadows I saw the visitor was still watching me.
My legs were cramped as I stood up and limped around the studio, staring at my paintings. “Amazing. I said with surprise, ” They are all finished ! ”
“Yes”, said the visitor.
“Now you must leave them to exist and take their chance in the world,
just as I must now leave”.
The visitor stepped out of the shadows and he headed for the door.
I asked him- “What was your name again?”
“Mark…”. He looked back towards the studio window,
“ …out there… they call me Rothko.”