The Artist

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First pass of a story about an artist who let's his creation get the best of him. He loses himself in his work and in his own temptations for self indulgence.

He started painting again today. After ten years of creative block. Some might say it had driven him to madness or perhaps the alcohol had done its part in aiding the process.

 

The first attempts at painting were small canvases; 8x10, 11x14. It was the speed in which they were started and finished which both amazed and perplexed him.

 

He had a large store of canvases, although with the speed in which he was working they dwindled very quickly. The subject matter was extremely varied; self portraits, landscapes, even a few still lifes and nature studies.

 

He would paint for five hours at a time, only stopping for a small meal now and than or to take short power naps. It had been two weeks since he had started the process and the paintings were getting more and more detailed with every attempt.

 

He started seeing objects and landscapes almost as if he was painting from life-they were as clear as visions or even perhaps hallucinations that only faded when he closed his eyes, that which was becoming more rare as the time passed.

 

In the first month of the process, the painting was becoming more of an obsession than a calling, at first it was, if only I had more time as if mortality was appearing the protagonist in his work. But eventually a bigger problem appeared- the canvases he was using seemed to shrink as every attempt at painting seemed to be over just as it started.

 

One particular painting was of the tree of knowledge, a vision he had in one of his limited cat naps. The canvas was 6 foot by 5 and it quickly shrunk to nothing as the powerful strokes of paint broke from the edges of the canvas as the space continued to fail to contain his creativity.

 

One evening he had woke on the floor, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine permeating his nostrils and for the first time in a week he looked out the window. It was sometime in December and as he walked outside he realized he was snowed in.

 

The light of the moon glistened on a fresh layer of snow as he walked into the backyard. The fresh air felt good on his lungs and cleared his head for a moment, his eyes were sore from being dehydrated and his body ached from laying on the cold wood floor. He could still smell the linseed oil and turpentine even after being outside as the odor lingered in his nostrils and saturated his skin and clothes.

 

The sounds were hushed, his breath was heavy and labored. He sat down in the snow and stared at the sky. The snow was pristine.

 

He was surrounded by a grove of trees. The light of the moon reached from the woods in dark bands of shadow dappled in blues, grays and mauves. There was a gold halo of light that shimmered just out of his peripheral-he tried to clear his eyes of the haize but it grew stronger. He continued almost as if clearing the last bit of sleep from his eyes but the halo was replaced by what appeared to be a figure of a woman.

 

She hovered above the snow but left no shadow, only a hint of light that warmed the colors of snow. He again tried to gain his composure but by this time the figure had gotten too close to him to ignore.

 

For a lack of a better term, she was an angel. Long flowing blonde hair that flowed like tendrils of mist lit up by a golden shimmering light. She wasn’t necessarily wearing anything but she wasn’t naked either-a pale shimmering purple flowed about her much like her hair.

 

“I have to stop breathing in the turpentine” he thought to himself.

 

She said nothing and yet he could understand why she was there. She put her long fingers over his eyes and a cool breeze blew through his hair and deafened him for a moment.

 

She left as suddenly as she came, he was left freezing in a fetal position in the middle of the snow. His eyes were swollen and yet his desire to paint seemed unbarable as images raced quickly through his mind. He could have almost dismissed the apparition if it were not for the paint brush she had left at his feet.

 

It was a beautiful purple brush, one of the largest he had seen. The bristles looked like her hair, flowing and nondescript and yet instinctively he knew what to do. With barely another thought for his experience he stormed back into the studio with a purpose.

 

One large painting of the tree of knowledge became a tryptic of several images, complete with the cast of characters, the serpent, Adam and Eve. The faces were very nondescript and yet he recognized them, he painted feverishly through the darkness while the five hours sessions turned to seven than eight and finally half the day. The other twelve hours were split between sleeping, eating and sketching.

 

He first started stitching large canvas together that would stretch across the rooms and even over the windows. Finally, with a bit more confidence the walls became his canvas.

 

At first he fought the logic-how do I sell these or how do I keep them? What will happen when I sell the house? But as one wall merged with another it seemed there was no hesitation. Every line and every color seemed already ingrained, he copied the images as quickly as he could keep up with the visions.

 

The brush he had acquired from the angelic figure seemed to never dry of paint and soon the colors seemed to supernaturally fill the bristles. Sleep continued to seem pointless as the purpose to his life seemed to be taking its brilliant form.

 

He didn’t know where all of these images would lead to but he knew it was going to be something spectacular. After a month of furious painting-he woke in a drunken stupor to a new morning light breaking through the canvas over the windows. He pealed back some of the makeshift curtains to allow April and its glorious light to stream through and light up his work.

 

What he saw astounded him, as if he had no recollection of painting all the intricate details of the plants and animals that together created the garden of eden. The light of the room streamed through and lit up all the edges of the walls as one room illuminated another room and he was surrounded in a luxurious garden.

 

He didn’t even recognize many of the species of plants and the intricate detail of the animals astounded his artistic sense. He was awake, wide awake and realizing his masterpiece as it surrounded him. There were pallettes of paint on the floor, the panels of wood were painting with debri from the ceiling and stones and grasses.

 

The colors were so rich he could almost smell the fragrance of the exotic flowers and taste the flavor of a perfect spring day. The odor of linseed and turpentine seemed to evade him either by the rich comparison of his work or the habit of constantly breathing the fumes.

 

For three days he would stare at the painting while fading in and out of consciousness, he wasn’t sure if it was the constant breathing of the chemicals or sleep deprivation and poor diet but he was beginning to lose his ability to stay awake.

 

In one bout of exhaustion he slept for what seemed like two days, waking only to realize he was not alone. There were fingers on his chest and a matte of hair on the pillow beside him. He cleared his eyes and wiped his face only to realize the hallucination did not seem to fade.

 

What was more strange than anything is he knew her. He knew every shadow and sinew of her face and how her neck was long and blended smoothly and beautifully with her round shoulders. She was naked, pressed against his body like an appendage.

 

His fingers were wet with sweat and richly colored with oils that swirled about his body forming rich puddles of paint that streamed across her back like tiny snakes. He was in an awkward position tangled with her fingers, he was barely out of her although he could not remember any intimate act-it was a dream, an amazing dream.

 

Her hair was long and golden, it wrapped about his legs and smelled like spring. He studied her for a moment, watching as she stretched and reached her hands passing through a beam of pale light that streamed through the curtains. The sheets formed long twisting writhing serpents that pinned them both to the bed-neither could discern their own limbs from the other.

 

She was pierced, there was alizarin crimson that streamed from her torso to her large voluptuous chest. She looked up at him with intent, the kind of impish smile that a child having gotten caught for doing something wrong might have. As his thrusts became more controlled and rhythmic, she stared at the sky of the room, a painting of tangled vines and deep viridian leaves.

 

It was either the early morning light or the storm he had painted in the distance of the landscape but the room was dim. He could hear the dripping paint that sounded like rain outside but he had no idea what time nor season it was. He knew the turpentine was taking its toll on his senses and hallucinations and bouts with sleep seemed to be overwhelming him.

 

There was no climax to his dance with her, no beginning and no end. He woke several hours later and she was gone. The room smelt like sweat and there was the scent of burning pyre-he wondered if it was fall again, he planned on going outside and seeing but he could barely lift his head from the pillow.

 

Across from him she stood, her hair was long and golden, her fingers gently held a large beautiful apple as it hung from a tree he had painted. She was a beautiful portrait, absolutely perfect, although he had no recollection of starting or finishing it. Clearly beneath the vines and limbs of the apple tree the thick black skin of the serpent wound through the shadows ending in a face that was like a snake only it had deep black human eyes.

 

He was amazed at the detail and yet more disturbed that he could not remember painting it. The garden surrounded him, it streamed across the walls and down the hallway-a storm was in the distance and the rich green grasses surrounding the landscape dissolved into the floor. All of the white tiles of the floor had been crushed and pounded into the ground so the earth beneath was leaking out and forming what was formerly the floor-it was hard to ascertain where the room stopped and the painting began.

 

The beauty and overwhelming majesty of the painting overwhelmed him and distracted him from the high toxicity of the turpentine fumes. He began again, this time it was even more violent in the leaves and the cool blues were weaved into deep gashes of gold and green.

 

He dragged himself to the pile of paint and continued to thrash the walls with paint as the white sky became a storm cloud and flock of black birds reached their dark forms across the wall canvas. He was immersed, completely contained in his work and continued for the next five days. During his fits of hallucination, she would look over him, as if she was critiquing every stroke. He missed the smell of her skin and the touch of another human. He lost himself in the work, overcame the intense loneliness and feeling of being absent with the intensity of mixing paint and forming life sized trees and distant clouds.

 

There were no pictures, everything was in his mind as if it had been previously painted. He could not recall the movements nor the composition from his previous few inches of painting-they all blurred together. There was a feeling of absence, a puzzle that seemed to unlock itself before his eyes but he had no control over its direction nor the execution of the details he employed.

 

He would only stop for short moments when the details would overwhelm him. He would start a new place in the room, a completely new image until the collection of paintings seemed to merge across the wall. He was quickly running out of space as every inch of the wall and corners of the ceilings were beginning to form around him. There were even moments when he felt as if he was stuck in the middle of the painting and his legs moved as the brush formed the motions if not for the continuation of his strokes and bits of paint he would be frozen within his own landscape.

 

This process took several days and as he finally passed out on the bed he was completely exhausted and beginning to show the toxicity of the chemicals in his blood. He coughed and blood spattered across the wall becoming more stains of crimson.

 

He laid down on the bed again. He could still smell the sweat and the scent of her was still strong. His loneliness followed him into his sleep, a dark and dramatic sleep of lights and rich swirls of poisonous colors.

 

It had seemed like days that he had napped but he suddenly awoken by a loud thud. He was hoping it was her but instead a large red fruit slammed against his shoulder and rolled across the floor. He cleared his eyes, turned to see the source of the flying object and quickly hid his face to avoid another.

 

In the corner of the room was a man, a naked man who was obviously angry with him. As he approached he kicked the bucket of turpentine and it flowed across the floor. In the shadows, the artist could see the paint stains mingling with dirt and streaming across the floor eliminating the final pieces of tile that were still white.

 

He turned to face his attacker and looking at the hatred in the mans’ face, he knew it was going to get ugly. Without a word, the man rushed him, forced him against the facing wall. The moist fresh paint stamped his back like a tattoo.

 

Before he could react to the pain in his back he saw a silvery flash as his attacker slashed his weapon about his face and hands. They were pressed against the wall, so intensely he could feel the sheetrock give every shift and thrust.

 

The mans hands reached across his throat, he noticed the large palette knife the man was wielding fall to the ground. He felt like he was in a dream as the battle continued. Walls seemed to fall as their forms forced each other through the house.

 

Again, while trying to get his composure as his windpipe gave in to the mans forceful hands, he could smell something burning close to him. With a sudden feeling of purpose and expedience he grabbed the large palette knife and slammed it into his attackers stomach and as the thrusts allowed his grip on his throat to loosen he continued higher on his torso.

 

The mans ribs broke through the flesh on his chest as the knife continued its desperate slicing and thrusting. The man fell to his knees. Stumbling past him, the artist observed his scene of carnage, the crimson streaming across the floor and mingling with the walls.

 

He was again reminded of the smell of burning. He stumbled to the bedroom as the sheets of his bed took on a life of their own, twisting and writhing like white serpents turning into grey streams of pale smoke.

 

He was exhausted, beaten by his own creation, he lay on the floor as flames began engulfing the bed and climbing the walls, the ceiling above him, twisting and mingling with the smoke like some revolving wall cloud.

 

It was all the chemicals, permeating the room, the soaked sheets and cloth with turpentine and linseed oil. It was his life’s work and as he watched the rooms quaking in the darkness he knew everything he worked for was now in danger.

 

He reached for the walls, the flames jumped to his soiled shirt and climbed about his form. He could hear the devil, screaming in the flames, as a harsh wind blew through broken windows.

 

As the small house began to fully engulf, the scene he painted reignited in his mind, every lick of flame reminded him of each thrash of the paintbrush. The colors were violent, streaming from reds and yellows in culminating in blues, much like the flames that were now forcing the glass out the windows.

 

He could see the shards of glass glittering like diamonds as they filled the air in a dust of colors and crystal. His work, now in it’s final and crucial form, he crawled through the glass and broken pieces of wood as the flames found the last gallons of turpentine.

 

A warm breeze forced by him like a ghost as the ceiling fell all around him and the floors fell into the earth and except for a few remaining embers the whole house sunk into darkness, the wood mingling in the snow and ice beyond his door.

 

Late in the evening, there was nothing left on the ground. As the pale moon found the broken down house a buried ghost, it stared with indifference. He was dead, anonymous, forgotten, all of his greatest work buried deep beneath the earth, even his skeleton would never be salvaged, no grave or marker would keep him.

 

No mark would be left on the earth that the artist was ever there, only that smouldering work of art, only that dark charred hallowed earth that all but replaced the artist.

 

It had been ten years since the artist disappeared, not that any would have noticed his absence due to his reclusive nature. The land the house was on changed hands several times in the period of a decade and very little surveying had even been done.

 

A wealthy architect, a recluse himself, bought the land at auction when the previous owners had failed to make their payments. While he was prepping the land and surveying the property he found the charred earth of the house.

 

He started digging through the rubble and began turning up first the small paintings from its previous owners than noticing the large areas of walls with very much intact paintings of what looked like an amazing and complete work of the Garden of Eden.

 

Without missing a beat, he began salvaging the house and even drawing plans for the gallery that would one day sit upon the property. He envisioned a great gallery he could build and with the paintings he would turn the landscape into the beginning of a small but important artist community.

 

He knew he would be successful and he was right. One day, years later he walked around the walls of the gallery, proud of the grand spectacle he had built, watched the patrons come and go and enjoyed the benefits of his discovery.

 

One night as he was closing the gallery and sipping the bit of brandy he had made somewhat of a habit of drinking before the winter weather closed the gallery for the season, he heard a strange noise and felt a presence deep in the gallery.

 

He crept along the walls and asked if there was someone there and there was no reply. As he was just about to turn his back and close the doors thinking he was just hearing the sound of wind through the structure, something hit him on his right shoulder.

 

He turned to notice a green apple rolling across the floor just as another apple hit his chest. There was no one there and yet he knew he wasn’t alone. Before his eyes, an amazing garden he recreated, a grand spectacle of a gallery-he was lost in a haize of green, sadly he would soon learn of his folly, it would be a long and terrifying winter as he sunk to the ground against one of the walls dropping the brandy on the floor.

 

 

Copyright 2016 Art by Gordon 

 

 

 

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