THE DRAWING LESSON, the first in the TRILOGY OF REMEMBRANCE.
Remember in Chapter One the confrontation between Alexander and his nemesis Rinaldo?
If you missed it check out this link. Prologue and Chapter 1.
This is some conceptual art in The Turbine Room. You can see the dimensions of the “spider” by the size of the people. Huge, right?
Now, in Chapter 2, we go back to James Helmsworth, Alex’s art dealer and his visit to Alex’s studio where he learns a very great deal about his client and about ways of seeing the world.
Despite my telephone messages, all of which remained unanswered, I did not see Alexander for almost a week after the Tate reception. Congratulations were certainly in order as he did win the Turner Prize, beating out Rinaldo.
However, in less than a fortnight, we had to mount a retrospective of his work at my gallery, Helmsworth and Son, in London’s Chelsea district. I am the son; Father has been gone almost twenty years. Although he was not unkindly, sometimes, in moments of stress, I still hear the rap of Father’s cane on his desk and his dismissive growls at any of my proposed innovations.
Although Alex had insisted on choosing each painting for the show, he remained unavailable for any consultation. I must say, I was rather put out by his indifferent attitude but I have, throughout my career, learned much about working with temperamental artists—Alex, in particular.
Mounting any show can be a Herculean task. Movers must be hired; walls need to be painted—to say nothing of arranging for caterers and placing advertisements. Just try to get knowledgeable reviewers from the press out at a moment’s notice!
But Alex’s work is so wondrous that I feel petty admitting to such comparatively trivial frustrations. The business side of art is most certainly mundane and promoters are really only bystanders looking through a murky glass at the marvellous but dimly perceived process of creation.
And so, I found myself at Alex’s door pulling on the bell Saturday at noon. Knowing he was a deep sleeper, I waited, between rings as patiently as I could. After five minutes, still there was no answer. Across the street, I leaned against the Embankment wall. From there, I saw a shadow cross his window three storeys up. Muttering about the nonchalance of artists, I returned to ring the bell again. At last, I saw him through the glass, lumbering downstairs. When he opened the door, he squinted in the noonday sun. Unshaven, he looked worn and haggard.
“Congratulations on your win, Alex!”
He merely grunted and started back up the stairs. I followed almost bumping into him at the top.
He closed the door. “What do you want?”
Taking a deep breath, I replied. “We have to decide which paintings are going into the show. Remember?”
“Show? But I said I don’t want to exhibit again, Jamie.”
It was worse than I expected. That damned Rinaldo had succeeded in undermining Alex, even though he had won the prize. I settled heavily into his chesterfield and withdrew a cigarette. Where to start?
I spoke patiently. “Alex, the invitations went out last week. I’ve hired everyone we need and Walshingham of the Post has agreed to come. He always gives you wonderful reviews.”
“Cancel it! Tell them I’ve come down with…” He shrugged. “Something serious—maybe deadly—a death of the spirit, if you will.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I did my best to keep panic from my voice.
Alex slumped on a nearby stool. “I can’t do it.”
“You must!” I saw my hand tremble as I lit my cigarette. “It’s that damned Rinaldo isn’t it?” I demanded. “How could you let him get under your skin? You certainly showed him up for a fool at the Tate.”
Wainwright’s eyes were moist. “He’s right, though,” he said softly.
“What? I can’t believe this!” I could not help but jump up and pace. “Look at these canvases. They’re your very best work.”
Alex chuckled. “Rinaldo drove straight to the heart of the matter. He asked whether the scene of the Hay Wagon exists anywhere on the face of the earth in this twenty-first century.”
“Of course it does. Anyway, why should that matter?”
“Pretty scenes,” Alex muttered as he gazed out his windows upon the Thames.
I was losing any semblance of composure. “Pretty scenes? Good God, Alex, look at them. You’ve captured something no one else ever has in landscape.”
“And what might that be?”
I stared at him and then at the four or five canvases arranged around the room. I remembered what the docent at the Tate had said. Numinosity did shine through. She was right! In that moment, I had a tiny glimpse of what lay beyond or behind the phenomenal world. Until that moment, I had not really experienced that quality in his work. Somehow, Alex had captured the essence of the world.
Was I too caught up in the details of the business—the mounting of shows, the advertising and caterers—to see how truly wonderful his work was? With a broad grin, I embraced my friend. Then holding him at arm’s length, I said, “Alex, God is in your work, just as the docent said.”
My friend simply shrugged. “Yes, but the light has gone out, Jamie.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“My muse has gone…left me in the lurch.”
“But that happens with all artists,” I began. “Inspiration always returns. Listen! Let me choose the paintings for the show. I’ll have them crated up this afternoon. All you need to do is show up on Saturday night.”
Alex seemed to hesitate, but then he said softly, “All right. Do that for me, dear boy.” He turned and smiled bravely. “I must do my best to find her again.”
As if dealing with the loss of a child’s imaginary friend, I said cheerfully, “I know you will find her soon. Muses always return.” But the sadness in his expression touched me and I realized my glibness. “Oh…dear!” I said, “Alex, do you mean the mother of this child you mentioned?”
He nodded sorrowfully. “I used to call her Maggie. I think she’s probably dead.”
“But there are all sorts of ways of finding somebody. A detective…public records.”
At the door, he gave me an odd, rather helpless shrug.
I clapped him on the arm. When I said, “If you like, I’ll try to help you,” Alex seemed to brighten. I started down the stairs. Turning on the landing, I called back to him. “I’ll be back with the workman around two.”
In retrospect, I wish I had given his concerns more serious consideration. This was the man whose work I had just finally grasped—the one who conveyed a sense of the beyond to those who would see. Walking hastily along the Victoria Embankment, I suddenly stopped.
Something about the light dancing upon the rough, rippled water of the Thames arrested me. I have always thought I had a pretty well trained eye for painting and, as a born and bred Londoner, I had gazed upon the Thames countless times. As a businessman, I’ve always considered myself pragmatic and so, I’ve had little experience with visions. In fact, always suspicious of those laying claim to otherworldly experiences, I likely thought such people were half-mad or worse still—poseurs!
The sharpness of the breeze seemed to enliven my senses. In that moment, my eyes saw anew the scene before me. Glistening water beneath a surly sky fused with my vision of Westminster Bridge. Its creeping traffic blended with the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben beyond. A sharp beam of sunlight broke through leaden clouds and spread out upon the river. For the first time, I saw that some unseen entity held it together outside of me before my eyes and yet, without distinction, made me a living, breathing part of it.
Every day, Wainwright saw the world like this. It was his truth, his reality that emanated from every canvas he had ever painted. Of course, sometimes it shone through better than others, but it was always there. And so, the artist himself was always in his painting. I must have stood there for half an hour simply gazing upon my city, seeing it really for the very first time.
Lost in thought, I turned away. As a landscape artist, Alex rarely painted the human figure. But he showed me one work of a sorrowful woman. In a long skirt, she entered the gate of a walled garden, lush with flowers, vines and trellises.
Adding several brushstrokes, he said to me, “The garden is there for all who will enter.” But then he sighed deeply. “Although I can paint light in the landscape, I cannot illuminate the human form. No matter how I try—it remains sodden.”
On the Embankment, I tore my eyes from my vision of the Thames and hurried back to the gallery and rang up the workmen.
So how do you see the world? Anything like Alexander? Let me know.
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Shall I keep going with Chapter 3 etc? After all lots of writers, Charles Dickens for one, first published in serial form in the newspaper.
Enjoy the holiday!