“... I want to paint you.”
She was surprised, sure enough. But she was also curious. Her face concealed nothing, and that was what fascinated me. As she walked through the gallery, each piece evoked something unique from inside her, and she did not bother to mask it. Anyone could read the critique in her face, if they took the time. It is an artist's dream – to clearly see the emotions we inspire with our work.
Many had passed by my work since the showing began, pausing for a moment, offering a quick word of praise. I didn't approach them. But, when she came to my painting, she lingered. At first, she kept a sort of distance, taking in the portrait from optimum perspective.
Then, she moved closer. Closer, still.
Narrowing her eyes, following the strokes of brush that formed arms and legs, and the arch of the neck. But, instead of smiling, like the others, she was disturbed. There was a distinct anxiety resting in her eyes. And that anxiety shattered me faster than any editorial the local paper had ever dished out. Editorials can be shredded with triumphant pleasure. But in the slight furrow of her brow, and the downward tug of her lips, this woman single handedly brought my heartbeat to a most uncomfortable rhythm.
It was this distinct discomfort that pulled me from my place of observation and motivated me to speak.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
I startled her, but she smiled and returned her attention to the portrait.
“I was just looking at this dancer,” she replied.
“Yes, but you seemed... upset?” I ventured. “What is it about the dancer?”
She darted her eyes at me for a moment, but only long enough to decide to continue our conversation.
“It's just, I feel sorry for her,” she explained.
“Sorry?” I wasn’t sure what to think, really. “Why?”
“Because, I think she is lonely.”
That threw me off guard. I was accustomed to the usual praise.
“Truly, one of a kind.”
It grew tiresome in a way, but it was comfortably expected. The local venues were always thrilled with my offerings, but over time, my enthusiasm was reduced to contempt. When my secretary had first booked this showing for my latest piece, I almost threw my coffee at her.
I was exhausted with the weekend shows at The Courtyard. True, they had conjured a good deal of business as of late, but I felt no satisfaction at the end of the day. All I could hope for were a few simple remarks, no real conversation. No true appreciation.
I had little expectation for this showing. My most recent work was a portrait of a ballet dancer. A studio had commissioned it, but agreed to let me display it at the show before delivery. It was simple in concept, but stood out amid the offerings of that particular show. Amid the bulky sculptures and spattering of interpretive study, my dancer's clean lines were in stark contrast. Dark strokes outlined her body against white canvas, highlighting her single color.
A pale violet tutu.
“Please, what makes you say that?” I pressed her.
This time, she turned to face me, surely intending to end our discussion, or perhaps threaten to call security. I had to save myself quickly.
“Forgive me, it's just, I am Stephen Erik,” I said.
Her eyes widened, right on cue. “You mean, you're the--”
“Yes, I'm the one responsible for this… sad little dancer,” I replied, through somewhat gritted teeth.
Sad. Sad was not the word I had imagined when bringing this piece to life. There was a soft laugh mingled with her smile, and I thought I saw a faint blush in her cheeks.
“It's wonderful to meet you, Mister Erik. I always hope to see something of yours here at the gallery, and I've never been disappointed.”
At this, I felt I was able to breathe again. “And, you are?” I prodded.
“Well now, Grace, please, indulge me? Why do you say the dancer is lonely?”
For a moment, she hesitated, and I almost regretted revealing my identity as the artist. I’ve discovered that nice people are often afraid to offend the creator of the work. Perhaps they think we mix our own blood into the paint, or clay, or watercolors. I have never had such an attachment, although others surely have. More than spared feelings, I always craved true reaction. And, happily for me, Grace could not taper her true impressions.
“She holds herself tightly. Like no one else has ever held her before,” she told me.
I looked again at the portrait. Yes, her arms were crossed over her chest, and her feet tightly planted in fifth position. I had sketched her hands myself, and yet, I had not quite noticed how tightly her fingers grasped. Or, perhaps I had done this.
Perhaps I had subconsciously slipped my own hands into those of the dancer.
“That's quite an observation,” I replied. “Is that all?”
“No,” she admitted. “The color. Purple. It's such a lonely color.”
I chuckled a little. “As opposed to, shall we say, yellow?”
Her eyes darted back to me, wholly unamused. “Yellow can be lonely, too.”
“Oh, really? How so? Tell me this philosophy of yellow,” I implored.
“Yellow is a friendly color. It has lots of friends. Lots of people flock to yellow, because it smiles so much. And then, when yellow cries, they don’t know what to do. Because yellow is the one who smiles. So they just wait. Maybe they hand yellow some tissues or something. But it’s not what yellow really needs. So yellow is lonely, too,” she replied. "Even surrounded by people who love them."
I was silent for a long while. I didn’t really know what to say. So much thought, so much perception into a color that rarely graced the edge of my palette.
She took a breath. “I think purple holds all of its feelings inside itself, until it is alone. And then, it cries. But nobody sees.”
At that moment, I knew.
I wanted to paint this woman.