Art in all its crazy forms

Submitted into Contest #239 in response to: Write a story about an artist whose work has magical properties.... view prompt


Fiction Indigenous Mystery

Art in all its crazy forms

I had a very unusual up-bring. Let me explain. I was born to parents that were well known portrait painters. In fact to be more precise the definition would be traveling portrait painters. By the time I was born their mood of lifestyle had proved quite successful. That meant they regularly traveled between New York, London, and Paris. They could afford keeping an apartment in each capital and renting a studio when required. They were well known in each city and in fact had a waiting list of clients anxious to have their portraits painted. In the schooling period of my life I tended to hinder and frustrate their traveling plans, which were like a metronome with eight to ten months in each city.

In my early years I was transport in a cradle to sittings with clients, art galleries and airplanes. Later when I was not in primary school I sat quietly on a chair watching my father or mother delicately mixing paints and then applying them to a canvas. My parents were talented artists, they had inherited the passion for painting from their parents. My mother was born in Russia and raised there as a teenage until she meet my father who was Dutch. I believe my father met her on an art seminar in Saint Petersburg. They were both young, ambitious, and talent proven painters. The seminar ended with an engagement; with marriage two months later. I think why they were successful portrait painters was that not only did they pay particular attention to light, skin color and background they made the sitter look distinguished and enjoyed having his or her portrait painted. I sat there in my corner watch and listen to the banter that passed between painter and client. I also watch with close attention on how paints were mixed and applied. When I was ten and not in school I learnt to assist my parents. If I had to choose I preferred working with my mother who had mostly a clientele of men and their families whereas my father’s clientele was predominantly women.

I know my schooling schedule irritated my father as it clearly affected their business. I once heard him say we have to find a solution to find our son a good education. So they decide on the English boarding school system. I overheard them struggling with the choice but finally Lansing college was were I was sent. I think it appealed to their sense of try to be considered as accepted by the English. It would certainly help with their portrait business. I spend several happy years at Lancing and found that living removed from a painter’s world was both refreshing and opened up many other horizons of interest. During my schooling there I did occasional see my parents when they came to London.

I went on to study art and English literature at Cambridge. Finally I was released from my academic studies and was faced with the decision of selecting a job that would enable me to continue with the lifestyle I was accustomed to. My parents were in the process of retiring. They had decided to go and live in the south of France and sell their apartments. They bought a splendid villa in Cannes. I thoroughly approved. With all this family disruption in progress I decided to travel around Europe with a friend and contemplate my future. After much soul searching I decided to go back to my studies on a three year course to study journalism.

Now to find a job. After a few interviews a major London newspaper signed me on as an assistant editor. The newspaper's senior editors soon found out that I had extensive knowledge in the art market so I was assigned to be the art and cultural editors right hand man. I began a contented and interesting period of my life. I visited gallery openings, went to auction houses , and occasionally traveled to review exhibitions in well known foreign galleries. When visiting my parents I was delighted to find they enjoyed listening to my travels and opinions.

It must have been about eighteen months later that I received a call from a friend who was an auctioneer. It was a strange call telling me about an artist that had painted a series of pictures that seemed to have some magical properties. I asked him if he was not confusing magic with a deep emotional sensation. An example would be some of the impressionists’ paintings that have that quality of image which allows the looker to see a slightly blurred view painted with intense use of subtle colors. For the majority of people these paintings leave a deep impression. No, he replied the effect on one was of a larger magnitude. The conversation concluded with us agreeing next week to go and visit the artist. I remember when I put the phone down I was very skeptical about my friend's use of the word magic.

A week later I met my friend in the north of London. We had a quick coffee before going to the artist’s studio. During the coffee he suggested I should not be put off by the artist’s bazaar appearance. I did not comment but thought it an odd remark. In fact as we approached his studio I felt a tingle of excitement at the thought of meeting some queer creator. The studio was on a tree lined side street, secluded and one felt a deep sense of peace and tranquility. We arrived at his front door. To the right of the door was an engraved copper plaque marked Thomson, Artist below was a date with a hyphen after it followed by a blank space. I assumed the date was his date of birth and blank waiting to be filled in at his death. I thought it was an interesting idea if he thought his studio would be a center of interest after his death. My friend took hold of the large brass knock centered on a large red door. I looked at the building. It was some kind of stone brick warehouse with no windows in the front. When the knocker hit the door we heard a dog bark, then a shout. “Champion come here.” A minute later the door opened. I had been warned. There before was indeed a strange individual. He was tall, over six feet with a large and bushy white beard and a mane of thick unruly white hair falling down over his shoulders. On his head he wore a skull cap. He possessed a large nose that was divided by two piercing blue eyes. He was clothed in a white shirt with ballooning sleeves partly covered by a high coloured waistcoat of silk. Around his neck was a necklace of tribal beads.. As I looked at his large obedient dog at his side I noticed his trousers had a pattern of stars printed on cotton material. He was indeed an interesting figure.

His deep toned voice welcomed us in. Again I was in for a surprise. The interior space was vast. It appeared to be divided into three separate areas. The forefront ,where we stood, was a place for exhibiting his works. Then followed a larger area. I could see that presumably this was his working studio cluttered up with canvases, paints and a handy man’s workshop. In the distance I supposed was his living quarters as there seemed to be an upstairs arrangement. It was an impressive building with several skylights and a few windows situated just under the roof. The skylights and windows let in the day light that gave the area a romantic feeling of being in a special place. I noticed there were several high powered spot lights scattered around the area.

“Gentlemen, I understand you have come to see my collection of six pictures that I call magical works of art. It has taken me several years to arrive at the final result. You will see to your left six large pictures hanging spaced three meters apart. My friend and I turned to look to the left wall of the exhibition area. Six pictures were hanging all covered up with what appeared to be some sort of screen, below the covered pictures were instructions and signs. The words below the first picture said please stand in front to get a perfect view. Below these words was an arrow directing one down the lined up of canvases. As instructed we stood in front of the first picture. Within seconds the screen disappeared revealing the painting of a handsome and delightful English country house. It was extremely well painted with great attention to details and precise brush stroke. One could see in the background a well kept garden adorned by magnificent oak trees. Suddenly the manor house’s front door opened and a sign below the picture lit up and told us to move on to the next picture. Once we had moved from admiring the manor house it was immediately covered up. What had made the painting so unusual was the front door opening without any visual signs of disturbing the canvas. The scene definitely took a magical aspect.

We were now in the entrance hall with a butler present to welcome us. Again a beautiful executed painting with remarkable attention to detail. It portrayed a spacious entrance hall with a central staircase leading to the upper floors. I notice two elegant statues of Greek Goddesses carefully placed. The butler moved his hand ushering us into the drawing room. The arrow situated below the painting signified us to move on to the next picture. Like the previous picture as we moved forward the entrance hall painting was covered up.

The living room demonstrated to perfection the pinnacle of good taste; large comfortable sofas and craftsmen furniture: delicate small tables holding designer table lamps. As we gazed at the room all the table lamps lit up casting soft seductive light patterns over the furniture. I started to feel a combination of magic and seduction with the painting that touched my emotions and sentiments that I had never felt before. One wanted to step in the room and embrace its beauty.

We stepped in front of the next one. We were entering the library. At this point I realized the artist through his talent and imagination was making us believe we were taking a stroll through an exceptionally well decorated manor house. The library had been designed to accommodate a large collection of books as all four walls showed fitted oak bookcases loaded with books. It was a room for relaxing as it contained several sofas and arm chairs. I also noticed a drinks cabinet placed amongst a bookcase on the right wall of the room. But what our eyes immediately noticed was a large impressively made world atlas turning slowly on its axis. The details of the painting was so fine that you could almost read the book titles and various capitals on the atlas

We moved to the next canvas. The library closed. We found ourselves looking at the dining room. Somebody was laying the table for a dinner party. The table was laid out in majestic form with elegant porcelain china and silver cutlery. Two silver candelabras had been placed at each end of the large and imposing dinner table. As our eyes feasted on the details of the painting the candles on the two candelabras lit up casting a romantic soft subtle shadows over the table. The experience was so powerful I felt propelled to take my place at the table. To sit there and admire a series of country scenes that decorated the walls. I turned to my friend and said. “It's amazing that when the candle lights come on there is no visible movement on the surface of the canvas. We are surely in the realms of magic.”

We faced the last canvas with a foregone conclusion that we would be delighted and amazed. The painting was of a kitchen in full preparation of the pending dinner. There was a figure bent over a large stove busy stirring some dishes. A large table dominated the center of a sizable kitchen with polished flagstone floors. Various pots and pans were suspended from the ceiling at a reachable level. The walls were covered by a series of open cupboards holding an array of china and glass. The overall scene again showed the artist’s attention to detail. He had created a kitchen that had the effect of making the on looker want to walk into the canvas and enjoy the smells and ambiance of someone cooking there. While we watched we saw steam rising from the stove.

As we walked away from the last picture we heard the swish of the cover descending. The artist was working in his studio and he must have heard we had finished admiring his works. When he appeared he said, “Well what do you think”? I was the first to reply. “Your painting demonstrates a remarkable attention to detail. They remind me of certain pictures Rubens painted. To combine these beautifully painted pictures with subtle movements in the canvas gives them a strange magical feeling. I am not sure how you have achieved this but the effect is to leave you wanting to walk into the rooms and admire their beauty. I am amazed.

At this point my friend joined and concurred with my sentiments. He was deeply moved by the artist's imagination and detailed work.

As we were leaving I turned to the artist to thank him and on the spur of the moment asked him if he had any further plans to continue this format of pictures. He looked at me with his piercing blue eyes.

In his deep toned voice he said. “Yes I have already started on another six paintings but first I have to finish a number of commissions from clients that follow my work.”

“May I ask what the theme of the next six pictures will be about.”

“They will depict the gardens of the manor house and the surrounding countryside and village. If the Lord gives me strength after that I will complete the series with another six pictures about the family that lived in the manor and their adventures through life.”

We left with a firm handshake; in doing so I had the odd feeling that I was shaking hands with a wizard.

David Nutt February 2024

March 01, 2024 07:47

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