The first one that sold, much to Chancer's disappointment, was the vase with the lilies. Instead of stamen, there were arms, legs, human and animal parts. Critics would call it a unification of inanimate life with the animated world
, the naturally unnatural, realistic surrealism, dynamic still life
, a whole slew of art world oxymorons
concocted to make it sound like their opinion mattered. The title of the painting was Reproduction
, and it was the artist's least favorite work. His crowd pleaser. The painting you could take home to mother.
He had lived alone for years in a ranch house upstate. His barn was filled with imitations of floral life, landscapes, expressions of life away from the city where he had grown up. Reproduction was his flight of fantasy, his least grounded -- certainly his most hideous -- work; but the gallery owner who had made the trek all the way from civilization just to see Chancer and his works had gasped in awe and delight when he saw it.
"I must," he cried with a possessive lilt, "simply must show this piece."
Chancer was wary because he didn't feel confident as an artist. Future critics would cite his earlier works as fumblings of a sighted man in the world of the blind, pieces that would never be fully embraced because they seemed all too commonplace, especially in comparison to the flushness and measured abstraction of his later works; however, the insistence of a man who almost never doted so before an artist was too much. Chancer caved, the painting was moved to the gallery and soon the artist found himself a few thousand dollars richer and suddenly tempted to dab all of his brushes in a little more green. He could compromise, make a career out of this after all.
He had lived alone but had many friends. A lifetime in the city and he, after all, hadn't gone all that far to get away from it all. Upstate was a wasteland, nirvana for refugees from greater urban aspirations. He had moved but his friends still remained, called every week, dropped by every month for drinks and dinner. He had loved cooking. Cornish hens were his specialty.
It was the last feast when April had noticed it, had made her passing remark. "You're leaning towards the improbable," she had said. So careful, so eloquent.
"What do you mean?" He was on the landing, sorting through boxes to see where he had accidentally packed the corkscrew. The bannister was oak, deep hued and vibrant, caught the setting sun's ruddy rays and reflected them inward. He leaned over it with one hand casually tracing over the finish, following the axis of the grain.
"Well," and she looked at the piece she was wrapping. "A lot of painters' mountains reach toward the sky. They merely hope to achieve. Your mountains are the sky. They blend in a fashion so sublime, I can't even hope to -- " Words weren't the proper medium. "It's beautiful."
"It's yours," he said, smiling. He had known April for fifteen years, since college he guessed. She was vibrant, full of sunshine and irrational behavior, yet she carried herself with a meditative stoicism. She was his oxymoron, reflective and opaque. He had painted her once as a bottomless pool of ultraviolet light, but that was years before he had chained himself to nature, years before he had resigned himself to dismissing his teachings.
"I. I couldn't," she stammered, beamed. This sort of modesty was prerequisite for exquisite gifts, yet she knew he would never rescind his offer. "It's too much. This should be in a museum. This should be appreciated."
"It's yours, and don't you dare tell me otherwise. You're helping me move, you're helping me cook dinner, and you've never kissed my ass in all the years I've known you, so it's about time. Frankly, I'm amazed you managed to hold out this long."
A wad of brown paper, after following a quick and graceful arc from April's ivory hand, smacked Chancer in the forehead. Her impish grin cooed, "Solipsist," and she shook her head, turning her attention back to her brand new piece of art. Art. Chancer's work of art. The mountains bled into the sky, gave birth to a flock of sea gulls that were all the same bird. It was all the same color. It was constructed of different hues.
She would hang it above the fireplace, a strange area of prominence in homes. One that said, "I respect this artist so much that I'm going to put his work in imminent danger."
People were funny that way sometimes.
He stared at the smoke rolling across his ceiling, black against white, obliterative versus blank.
He had moved back to the city to be closer to the galleries, closer to what lawyers, what brokers, what art dealers where telling him was His Public. Trade reviews came in and he largely ignored them. He didn't want His Public telling him what to paint. The apartment was small, had space for his paintings, had space for his bed, had space for his culinary extravagances. Cornish hens were less safe. Salads made more sense. Microwaves were still out of the picture. Salads could still be art, though. Salads could still be meals.
The money had been rolling in, no doubt about that. One man shows. Galleries kept his superfluous paintings in storage when he had no more room in his apartment. Chancer was rich in creative humours, in respect, in carefully selected ignorance of critical praise. He forced a straight face all the way to the bank, looked the other way when he saw himself pasted all over busses. The city was growing around him, embracing him. He loved the city, missed the country. Pigeons were roosting in his barn. Pigeons were roosting on his fire escape. His Public loved him.
Shapes had begun to lose their meaning there in the city. Buildings blended into sidewalks into pedestrians into taxi cabs. The sun was an iron ball that reflected itself. He could never see it from his apartment, only saw its telltale trails that made their way across the kitchen floor, along his bedspread.
The painting room. "Ground Zero," April would call it with a lilty laugh, with her arms around him. The windows were sealed off with butcher's paper. There were times when he would sequester himself in there for weeks producing paintings en masse. His genius was compared with that of Pollock, with that of Pittman, with that of Rothko, with that of Mondrian. He paid no attention, forced himself not to. He created suns that set into buildings. He created taxi cabs as oceans. He created. He could not destroy.
He had burned the dinner, a roast. April was there, was reading in the bedroom, had smelled smoke and ran to investigate. He had set it in the oven, had gone off to finish an infinite work. No work was ever finished. The gallery would just take whatever he happened to have left alone for a week or so. He would protest. They would pay. He would keep his straight face all the way to the bank. He would not believe His Public and Their Hype.
When she ran into Ground Zero, Chancer was lying on his back, staring at the smoke, smiling, laughing. "I can't capture it," he said, tears of joy tracing rivets down the oils on his cheeks. "That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
April decided to take him out that night. "Where do you want to go?"
"Anywhere," he breathed between chuckles. "Anywhere is a treat."
She hailed a cab, a commuting ocean, a body of water on the Viking longboats he saw in the avenues. She had to push him in, he refused to budge, he was seeing everything everywhere. The maitre'd clapped once before them, smiled, bowed, showed them to a table that was not good enough, but on such short notice...
April smiled, dismissed the gentleman with a wine order, held Chancer's hand. "The sun," he smiled. "The sun is in my head."
the beginning of the fall was at the first of summer's shine
first interview granted, chancer told the reporter
i have a world apart
i see the world differently and swing through arenas of light
there is a nature to the cities, untold urbanization of the animals
wherever we look, it is there, but we do not see it
our progress is not our own
look in the art, look in yourself, you will find it
so the community laughed in strident orange sunbursts, sinister and scathing, ultraviolet, overstated. they were ideas that seemed contrary to nature and civilization alike. his flora was alien and familiar
frighteningly so, because they were dreams of men he had never met. these men were poets, were critics, were farmhands, were mechanics, were bank managers, were criminal, were sane. these representations were far too far from anything they had ever come to confront in the waking world
bitterness didn't couldn't wouldn't suit him, wouldn't ply itself to him. he would have to acknowledge the world first, come out from his subconscious and his flowers, see the buildings as mortar and brick, the people as flesh and blood, the pavement as anything other than rolling fields of poppies
ground zero was always eerily clean, one painting, one canvas with bold, rash lines. april wasn't around much in the spring, was around less and less. she was worried, of course, but busy, managing her life, her dreams. she dropped in once before the hospitalization and saw the painting, the blue lines, the bottomless lake
what is this? she asked, curiously frightened
it is you revised
these fathomless shores, these hues that place themselves beyond understanding, they warm me, invite me to play
they keep me at a distance
he said, pulling the canvas aside and displaying the new work, the final work
is me, is what is in my head, is what is on your body
i'd like to lay it by your shoes forever, but i fear it would dive in
and he fell
april made him some tea, put him to sleep after he collapsed, shook on the subway all the way home. the next day she called around, made inquiries, found that chancer hadn't so much as left the house for weeks. she called a doctor, met him there. they broke down the door to find him clawing at his forehead, screaming for release, for oils, for azures and vermillions and chartreuses unseen. he asked to bend the pines into fairy tales that no one in the future would be able to understand. chancer taxed himself finally and passed out, ruined watercolors flowing from the edges of his painted bloodshot eyes.
They found seven tumors across his brain, rare and almost certainly fatal. When the doctor explained this to him, Chancer told him the news was a sickly green pallor and should never have been commissioned from the artist in the first place.
He asked April to drive him upstate, away from the jungles and madness the city had become. He wanted to lie on grassy hills and feel the brisk and airy reds of ants walking along his arms.
"There are birds," he mentioned to her as they got out of the station wagon and she reached for the picnic blanket, "that have the most stunning songs. Thrushes and finches and larks who sing like roses and daisies." He ran down the hill and rolled in the solid green swatches laughing, a free man, echoing himself across the valley. This was his nature, the warm spot inside that manifested in brief tracers of sanity to the rest of the world. This, April knew, could be his only tomb and this, she was glad, would be Chancer's last impression on anything.
Without brushes, without canvas, without oils and grease pencils, he was still an artist, etching a reminder of what humanity could possibly define itself to be, chortling in the fields, singing in the breeze, expounding on its praises until the very last breath of its passage in time.
Across the winds, he was running forever.