(click to enlarge) “The Icebergs” by Fredrick Church, Dallas Museum of Art
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#54) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
MODERN AMERICAN ARTS DIGEST —– AUGUST 13, 1996
ELMORE SPENCER – AN ARTIST WATERS HIS ROOTS
Elmore Spencer has climbed the mountain of the art world. From a child prodigy that startled adults with his sketching skills at the age of six to a celebrated student of the Paris art schools to a meteoric rise to the jet-setting toast of the New York Art Society, Spencer has had it all.
Instrumental in founding the “New Realism” school, he then rejected this return to “Painting that looks like something” and veered off into innovative artistic experiments that challenged the border between art and observer, maintaining his success and popularity through it all.
Now, he struggles with a return to his roots, to maintain the connection with his audience that has been robbed by his decades of success. The conflict of the avant-garde and the traditional, realistic and symbolic, is at the heart of what Spencer is up to.
“It’s been a long road, but I’ve been lucky,” Spencer said in a recent interview, “To others its looks like a climb, a rise, but it’s a spiral, the further I go, the more times I return to the same place.”
His newest work is a sculpture, a pair of lovers – hyper-realistic. They sit on a bench in the darkest corner of a room with a film playing against a screen, they are only visible during a portion of the film, illuminated by a flame on the screen. They are locked in a kiss, an embrace, his hand is slipped inside her shirt, hers rests on his thighs. Most visitors think the couple is real, the museum received dozens of complaints.
Another sculpture is a mechanical museum guard. He stands inside the room. On those days the film is turned off. Infrared proximity sensors pick up any patron that enters the room, the ersatz guard then plays a recording, “I don’t know, they’re supposed to turn this film on.”
Other sculptures are occasionally placed in the room – such as an ersatz murder victim with a knife protruding from his back. These are obviously intended to shock or annoy. On certain days the room is empty, leading to a scene where patrons in the know walk around examining each other, trying to determine what is real and what isn’t.
Spencer often spends the day in his own installation, sitting on a bench with his famous sketchpad, drawing the observers. This has been so successful, he has taken to walking around the museum sketching patrons looking at art.
“As artists we live for the people that look at our work, really. We rarely think about them, or study them, or try to incorporate their lives into the art itself. I want to change that…….”
She turned from the painting, a huge panel covering most of the wall, hand painted with extreme skill to look like a blow-up of an article from an art magazine, to see her husband standing there.
“What do you want?”
“It’s time to leave.”
“I’m not finished reading this.”
“What the hell?”
“It’s by Spencer, My Life, it’s called. I haven’t decided what it means yet.” Shelby felt anger welling up in her throat. She’s known Jim, her husband, since they were children and they had argued many times over the years, but nothing like lately. There was a fight coming on, mean and nasty, with no resolution. She could feel the heat rising, like a hot nut right under her sternum.
“Come on!” Jim said, placing his hand on her arm, “We have things to do.”
Shelby wanted to explode, but the Kooning museum was not the place to have a knock-down, drag-out, so she walked stiffly in silence, stewing. They passed toward the entrance until they reached an area dominated by a huge landscape painting; the most famous work in the museum. It was a scene of icebergs, a giant white slope, under a brown and purple sky. The ice in the foreground was littered with debris, a shattered mast, a glacier torn boulder. The ice rose in craggy veined cliffs pierced by a surprising emerald green frozen tunnel. The calm sea was disturbed only by circular waves radiating out from some unseen event.
She could not stand it any more, she was so furious. Shelby pulled away and sat quickly down on a circular bench in front of the painting. Jim sat down beside her, staring wide-eyed. Pulling in her anger, she started to speak.
“Excuse me, folks,” said a man they hadn’t noticed. He was gray-haired, wearing old jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, a large sketchpad resting on his knees. “Do you mind sitting there for a while, I’d like to draw the two of you. If you don’t mind.”
Jim stammered, “Well, we have…”
“Sure, go right ahead,” Shelby interrupted.
“Alright then, umm. turn toward each other a little, now look at me…. Fine, why don’t you hold her hand a little…. That’s right.”
He started drawing right away. Working with colored pencils and some charcoal and a bit of an eraser. Jim and Shelby felt nervous; the fight, their day quickly forgotten.
“Ummm… try to relax, why don’t you tell me a story. Tell me about when you first met.”
“Well,” Jim started. Shelby was surprised that he spoke up so soon. She was getting ready to talk, but he beat her to it.
“We met in junior high school, seventh grade, we were both thirteen. She sat if front of me in
English class. I remember, I loved her from the first moment I saw her. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Our teacher was old, he would lean on a podium and lecture us all class long. The room was too small, our desks were crammed together, her seat backed right up against my desk. All I would do is sit there and stare at Shelby’s hair. Her blonde hair. Sometimes she’d wear it down and it would fall in cascades right in front of me. Sometimes she’d wear it up, like a golden seashell, a yellow spiral. Sometimes in one ponytail, sometimes two, it didn’t matter. That was my favorite hour of every day, to sit in that hot crowded room and look at Shelby’s hair. I felt like I could do this forever, for the rest of my life.”
Shelby and Jim sat there then and talked. They talked of old times, when they were young and when they started dating. They talked of old friends. They talked of their first apartment, of their first house, of the cars they had bought together, of the meals they had cooked, of the vacations they had taken. They talked until the artist finished. He put his pencils back into a little wooden case.
“Well, can we see it?” they asked together.
“See it? You can have it.”
He handed them the paper and thanked them simply. The artist walked around the corner and was gone.
The drawing had the iceberg painting in the background. Carefully done in colored pencil it was amazingly detailed and accurate. He must have been working on it for hours. The painting, or, rather the drawing of the painting faded in an oval spot near the center. He drew only around the edges, leaving a blank spot, waiting as he drew for someone to come along and fill it.
Shelby and Jim filled the oval. She gasped as she saw it, it was a life-like drawing, done in pencil and charcoal, cross-hatch and shades of gray, only a hint of color added. Detailed. It was realistic except that they both were drawn naked.
The lower right corner had a quickly scribbled “ES.”
Over a dozen people surrounded them watching the famous artist work, but Jim and Shelby had not even noticed. Embarrassed by the gathering crowd pointing to details on the sketch, they rolled up the drawing, and headed out to their parked car. They held hands as they walked, Shelby leaned her head on Jim’s shoulder as he drove.
They spent a lot of money to have the print professionally framed and mounted. Never really comfortable with the nudity, they couldn’t hang it in their living room. The framer recognized the signature, told them it would bring a lot of money at a sale and recommended a gallery. Jim and Shelby couldn’t sell it, though, it meant too much to them. They did hang it, in their bedroom, next to the closet.
For many decades, it was the last thing they saw at night when they went to sleep, the first thing in the morning when they woke up.