Chair #4

He was sick of it, sick and tired of hearing them always going on and on about the same old thing, how they were doing something different, something new and modern when really the whole painting thing was washed up and had been for a long time. He felt genuinely sick and tired and fed up and more than a little drunk. 

“It’s too much about the eye,” the artist said. “You’d think the world was only what we can see with our eyes, and that it is all pretty views of the sea, or worse, of the mountains! Where’s the challenge in that? Nowhere! Just mountains and skies and nonsense! What is there in that!”

The waiter had long since lost interest in what the artist was saying, but it was late and there was no one else in the cafe and he didn’t feel like putting the chairs up just yet, so he continued to pretend like he was listening when really he was thinking of Jeanne and of how she had still not replied to his letter.

“How about this glass?” continued the artist. “Just an ordinary glass. No, just listen. I’m trying to explain something to you, something you need to realize. Tell me, what is this glass for?

The waiter stared down at the glass and thought of Jeanne.

“It’s for drinking out of, you’re thinking. And you’re right! We use this glass because it is perfectly suited for that one simple task. Wine goes in… Wine comes out. It won’t stain, you can get it spotlessly clean, not that you ever do. It’s perfectly designed. But what if we turned it upside down?”

The artist flipped it over, allowing what remained of the cheap red wine to dribble down onto the table.

“Now, what if we put something on top of it? Like this napkin… Wait, no… How about this pipe…”

The artist produced a pipe from his breast pocket and set it carefully down atop the bottom of the glass.

“And now we stuff the bowl of the pipe with the end of the napkin… There! You see? Now the glass cannot be used for drinking and the pipe cannot be used for smoking and the napkin cannot be used to clean up the wine. Each of these things has been successfully robbed of its purpose. Now we must really look in order to see what’s going on! Not with our eyes, but with our minds!”

The waiter glanced up at the clock on the wall behind the bar and decided to give it another five minutes before he asked the artist to pay up and leave. He felt suddenly impatient to get home and check his mailbox again. Maybe he’d missed her reply somehow, or another tenant had gotten it and realized the mistake.

“What are these things without their purpose? Are they more beautiful for being less practical? I would say that indeed they are! Why? Because now we must create a new relationship with them. Now we are forced to see them as pure objects. Now, at this moment in time, today, this very second and without any ego, they take on a whole other meaning.”

The artist looked up at the waiter and smiled, then slipped the pipe back into his pocket and uprighted the glass.

“Now give me some more of that terrible wine, but not before you’ve fetched me a fresh glass!”

The artist stumbled out of the cafe and into the Place de L’Odeon, muttering about the eyes and the sea and, worst of all, the mountains. The evening was warm and very pleasant and there were still some people mulling about. He took his time walking home, though he kept to the Rue de Medicis and did not walk through the Luxembourg gardens like he would have done had it been earlier in the day. He loved this city but was beginning to think he needed a fresh start somewhere else. Already he’d begun distancing himself from the usual crowd. “They can all go to hell,” he thought. “This is the time for the mind. For them it will always be about the eyes. On doit crevee les yeux! How else would there ever be a future that’s different from the past? The past must be stopped!”

Turning down the Rue Berthollet, it began to rain. He didn’t seem to mind though. Paris was one of the better cities to walk in when it was raining. Munich was a great city, and he’d walked there every day without fail to see the Cranachs, but it was not good for walking in the rain and Rouen was even worse. Paris was at its most beautiful in the rain, particularly on warm spring evenings such as these, when the desolate cold of winter was not so far gone that you couldn’t still feel it clinging to your bones. 

Suddenly, there was a clap of thunder and the gentle rain became a deluge. The artist, along with the few other people out strolling, made a dash to find temporary shelter, huddling in doorways and under cafe awnings until the worst of it had passed. He watched the streets begin to flood and wondered how that first mountain must have looked to Noah rising up out of the sea. He then wished it were possible to cover the mountains with an enormous napkin. Like a cadaver on an operating table. Maybe then they could mean something to him again. Maybe then their beauty could be resurrected. 

Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the rain let up and the waters retreated in a torrent down into the sewers and were gone. The artist, still thinking of the mountains, stepped from the doorway and continued on his way. “It should not be a white napkin, because that would look too much like snow. Nor a blue one either. Red perhaps, or yellow. Saffron!” The rain had helped to clear his head a little, but he was still decidedly drunk.

After digging around in his pockets for his key, the artist succeeded at last in gaining entrance to his studio. Hanging his hat and coat to drip dry on a stand beside the door, he lit a pair of lamps. The room seethed into being and was a good size, with high ceilings and a large picture window. The walls were mostly bare, save for a large canvas on one of them with some bold vertical and horizontal lines painted onto it. An inverted eye chart hung beside it. A few more canvasses had been propped against another wall, along with an oversized chessboard and an old bicycle with a severely damaged rear wheel. There was a wicker chair, heaped with boxes and blankets, and a metal drinks cart loaded with paint trays and dishes and tubes of paint as well as bits of stale bread and goodness knows what else. And at the center of the room, standing on top of a drop cloth and painted freshly white, was a tall wooden bar stool.

The artist folded his arms and considered the stool. He’d found it a few days ago, lying on its side off the Rue de la Glaciere with a broken leg. He’d taken it home and mended it, then painted it white. The only question was what to do with it now. He stared at it long and hard and soon went into something like a trance, like one might do when staring into a fire at night. He wondered how he might best deprive the stool of its purpose, how he might make something completely new and useless and beautiful out of it. “Damn their pretty little mountains,” he muttered. “Il faut absolument crevee les yeux.”

~ by calebnrogers on January 25, 2021.

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