Of The Artist
For the first morning since I arrived, the mist has withdrawn. It’s clear enough for me to Caesarean my way out of my tent and see to the edge of this rocky outcrop I’ve ended up perched upon. The stone’s been blasted bare since before I was born, rigor mortis to the touch when I’m not on the blanket I brought up here. Out from under what I call cover are my easels, bound to the ground with rope and pitons, to stop wind or gravity stealing them from me. My work kept dry by tarp that I rush to get off, can’t waste the clarity. Breakfast will have to be lunch, or dinner depending on how long I’m able to work.
I used to get told that my pictures were the wrong way round, that they were supposed to be wider than they were tall because that’s how you paint landscapes, but I don’t anymore. Unless that’s what the birds are singing about, but I’m sure they’ve more important things on their minds, like gossiping about how shabby and eggless of a nest I’ve made. It would be the second least helpful criticism I’ve had about my work, after the word yonic.
Looking down the scope of my rifle, I can see the bear’s body isn’t even bones by now. The only evidence is that I’ve one less bullet and some bugs are happier. I swear it took me longer to pull the trigger than has passed since. Approaching my easel, with a rag drenched in spirits, I rub at the browns and blacks I’d used for its body until they blur back into the background dirt. All that’s left now is to paint over the few specks of red that weren’t going away. I’d made sure the shot was clean, drowning in adrenaline, I had all the time I needed to line up crosshair with cerebral cortex. While it went about its business foraging, not even aware of me. It didn’t suffer, just slumped forward. Ignoring the extra orifice, you could even have thought it was sleeping. I wonder if it had heard the noise, felt like more sound than even such wide-open country had room for. As it resounded around me, traveling down the canyon and I don’t know how much further, all I could wonder was if it beat my bullet to the bear’s brain and who I’d sent scampering. I didn’t do any more painting that day, my hands weren’t going to work for the week at least. By the time I was better the weather took its turn to be terrible.
If a tree falls in the forest, do I have to repaint that part of my picture? Well yes, artistic integrity. I didn’t bring enough canvases, couldn’t carry them. Instead, I’m recycling. When I run out, the oldest is wintered away, then I can wash off the white and start again.
Unfortunately, acetone doesn’t work as well on the real winter. I can feel my daylight dwindling, and accounting for fog I might as well hibernate, or go home. But I know that’s not happening. It would be rude to my subject, and I won’t be the one who blinks first. Every day, well the clear ones, there’s new lines to add to my art work. The ones on my face happen automatically at least.
There’s this pillar, in the distance, I don’t understand how it’s still standing and it’s a pain to paint the light on it. If I could come back in a couple centuries or so, however long it takes erosion to edit my work for me, I would wait. I’ve managed to put an easel every 30°, as close to a panorama as I’ve the resources for, the tricky part is making sure I have the sun where it is supposed to be in each picture.
At night, especially when I’m not nearly drunk enough, I think things like, why? And more pertinently why the fuck? All this effort, while bugs and frost compete to see who bites harder. But I couldn’t put anyone else through this, and from up here, where you’re close enough to the clouds to feel like you’ll fall in as easily as off the edge, people deserve to see it.
I’m shocked how good a shot I’ve become, brought down a bird today, trying to take off with some of my food, and if you don’t mind the burn or bullet marks, buzzard’s good eating. I asked afterwards if there weren’t any hard feelings.
My subject is spread open, so seductively, a weaker person would snap their spine, but despite their age these parts are so flexible. Fatally far below me is a stream, that faint hairline blue, that winds its way through more than a few of my pieces. The forest is thick, which I’ve heard some people don’t like but it’s always been my preference. It’s the intricacy, that I could spend my life on, so many times over. I’d be dirt before I could even get one dust mite just right.
“Do people pay for them?” Is the question on smaller minds than mine, mainly my mother’s, because she just doesn’t see it, they’re shit. All my work, it’s nothing like the real thing, hard as I try, these rectangles are flat and flaccid where the forest is this torrent on timescales we can’t even see. I’ve seen the scraps of castles and cities, digested and egested as they’re churned up and overgrown again and again.
Clearly, I’m dying faster than the planet, the winters aren’t getting warmer for me. I’d call up that city in the distance to complain about the light but I don’t know the number. Plus my phone doesn’t likely work anymore, wherever it’s gotten to.
I can cross Zeus off as a potential fan, or is that me taking the loss of a canvas to lightning strike too personally? I could ask the gods what the odds were, but the answer is of course 1, eventually. Considering all the time this takes, all the pictures I’ve painted and all the times I’ve re-painted each, going from 12 to 11 probably isn’t such a loss. If it had been good maybe that would matter. The storm swirls around me, it can afford to wait me out, spend days at a time planning for a split-second strike. Not minding how soon its work vanishes.
I wonder which is a smaller fraction, my pictures as a piece of a place, or my life compared to how long this place will be here. You may be wondering where the paint keeps coming from, and the only answer I can come up with is the necessity of what I’m doing here. I get my sandwiches from the same place Sisyphus does, because there’s a job to be done. I remember asking why I had to go to a school where I just didn’t get it, Father said he knew I’d fail, that was the point. I think I get that now, I just didn’t find the thing worth failing at to get better. Why would anyone who could come out here choose my art anyway, when there’s this beauty? But it’s not about the people who have a choice is it, it’s about the people that don’t devote themselves, we’re accommodating those without the discipline or limbs to make it up a mountain and in that case, maybe my work is all they deserve.
I can’t remember my last conversation with someone who didn’t come out of a bottle, though djinn and gin both have the same habit of giving you exactly what you wish for with an ironic twist, but the hangovers on this overhang are getting too samey to be painful anymore. Though, they say, alcoholism is part of the way to being a proper artist, and I’ve not had to cut off any of my ears. It’s as my eyes dart to the rusted survival knife that I realise I’m teetering towards considering mutilation for recognition a worthy trade.
I don’t remember when I got the news my parents were dead, I mean no one told me, but well I presume by now they’d have died the way most people do, inevitably. Hopefully a less exciting end than they’d have imagined for me.
I’ve started running out of bullets, I don’t know when the number began being finite again, but I can take the hint. These woods have been surprisingly kind to me, let me develop my techniques. Man, if this crone could show the girl who climbed all the way up here what she’d do someday, I think she’d cry as much as I am now. But it’s too late to be as good as I’ve become. Arthritis and rheumatism pushed me over my peak as an artist which means my place on this peak isn’t being earnt. When I can’t satisfy my subject, why should I be provided for?
I’ve been kindly left one bullet and am no longer being sent animals to eat. There’s so much I want to say, to look the location I made a lifelong lover out of in the face, and be honest about how I feel, how pissed off I am, how dare it lead me on all the time then leave me behind. Because it would rather be in the future than with me. How I’d like one last embrace, where it runs its worms through my hair, let my body be blended with the earth. I’m sitting atop a mountain of questions and feelings. Knowing that conversation is something the mountain could blink and miss, just like I am. I’m too old to even be angry, I’m just tired. Does it even make a difference how my death is done, it left me a bullet but how could it understand the difference between the time it takes to shoot someone and starve them?
I look at my life’s work, one rectangle, in colours I have to remember because of how bad my eyes have gotten.
“Do you like it?”
When not working hard writing on the subreddit, r/PatGS, Avouleance relaxes by studying for a PhD in computational chemistry in the UK and getting progressively worse at videogames.
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