The Artist

The room was filled with the buzz of conversation and the clink of glasses. The women were in long dresses with low backlines, some with pearls around their necks, and others with silk gloves that went all the way up to their elbows. The men were all in suits looking dapper as they made conversation, laughed at each others jokes, and made mental notes of who was networking with who.

Terrence moved through the crowd, a handshake here, a shoulder slap there, a smile that put everyone at ease. From the outside, anyone observing him would have seen a mild mannered man in his mid to late thirties with round glasses and flecks of grey beginning to show in his temples. He was in good shape and had an air of easy casualness about him which often made people meeting him for the first time think that they had known him for years. He lived for these kinds of crowds and the adoration the people gave him.

Lining the walls of this grand hall and in the center on a number of easels were his latest works. People milled around, anxious to peek under the coverings over each painting. All would be revealed soon, and the people were keen, in the meantime they had champagne and jazz to keep them occupied.

Their attention was drawn to a man taking to the stage and stepping up to a microphone placed in the middle. The jazz band finished their song and a hush came over the hall, and people moved toward the stage. The house lights went down and the stage lights came up. Bathed in the glow, the man began to speak.

‘Friends, fans, buyers, and enthusiasts, welcome to this very special evening. Thank you all for coming and being with us here tonight as we unveil the latest works of Terrence MacFarlane, a man well known to you all, and a man whose art is loved by many.’

The crowd erupted into applause and the audience members beamed, feeling special that they had been included on the exclusive guest list for this evening. The speaker continued.

‘Terrence burst on to the scene three short years ago, and amazed everyone with his style, a style that many since have tried to replicate, but unsuccessfully. He remains unique in his ability to channel Pollock with his crazy backgrounds, and Picasso with his abstract foregrounds. He has mesmerised millions of people in this time, and tonight we are proud to host this first viewing of his latest works.’

The crowd applauded again. It was true, Terrence had seemed to come out of nowhere. His very first exhibition had been in a small gallery downtown, and soon thereafter word had begun to spread about his incredible paintings. What made them unique was the wild splattered backgrounds that somehow worked perfectly with foreground pictures of humans and objects in weird abstract shapes. Every inch of space was used on the canvas, and there was such detail that it seemed like viewers saw something new each time they looked over the work. Were the backgrounds actually random, or were they carefully crafted? On first inspection, it seemed like paint had just been splashed around, but looking closer one could see that the overlays and interactions seemed to have been done with a purpose. That apparent purpose added texture and made the foreground images leap out and grab your attention.

‘In a moment we will invite Terrence up on stage here for a few words, and then once we have unveiled the works there will be some time for you all to view and examine them. Later we will of course run the auction and you can try to join the club of lucky people to own a MacFarlane.’

A murmur ran through the crowd, like they had all collectively taken a deep breath and began to thrill at the anticipation of seeing the new artworks, but also to steel themselves for the rush to view them and decide on what kind of money they might offer to own one of these precious pieces. Some would be adding to their collection, others would be trying to get their first. Either way competition would be fierce.

The speaker invited Terrence to the stage and he made his way up the two small steps and squinted at the change in light as the audience applauded. He paused for a moment as his eyes adjusted. He wanted to see the crowd, to see their eyes looking at him, to feel their adoration for him and what he had accomplished. The clapping died down and Terrence felt a bead of sweat squeeze itself out somewhere around his shoulder blades and slowly glide its way down his back. He gave a little involuntary shiver as it hit the small of his back.

He leaned into the microphone. ‘Wow, so many people here, I’m amazed.’ Someone near the back of the group hooted. He chuckled and continued. ‘Thanks so much for coming down tonight, it still blows my mind that anyone is interested in the work that I do, I, I just, I don’t know what to say, but thank you.’

The crowd broke into applause again at his humble attitude. A lady in the front row seemed to have a tear in her eye while another placed her hand on her heart and shook her head in appreciative admiration. A gentleman to the left had put his wineglass down on the ground so that he could clap properly with both hands and not just pat one hand on his arm as some were doing.

Inside, Terrence got a rush of adrenaline. He didn’t mind having to play things down externally since it seemed to make the people like him even more. A small price to pay for the thrill he got from it all.

‘I want you all to have a wonderful evening, and hope that you like the latest additions on show here this evening.’ He stepped away from the microphone and went to leave the stage before pausing and leaning in once more.

‘Thank you.’

The crowd roared with cheering. The combination of being present, seeing him in person, and having the chance to own a MacFarlane was almost too much for them.

The host stepped up again. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, to echo the words of Terrence, thank you again for being here. Now, let us see what we all came here for.’

The stage lights went down and the room was plunged into darkness. Shuffling could be heard as staff removed the coverings from the paintings. A murmur went through the crowd and as their eyes became used to the dark the only light they could see was the dim glow of some tiny lamps on top of the music stands of the jazz band. The band started playing a piece that started with a light tempo but got faster and louder, and just as they reached a crescendo, the hall lights came up to reveal all the new works of Terrence MacFarlane.

Everyone in the crowd put their hands up to their eyes to shield them from the sudden glare. Then, almost in unison, their arms lowered slowly as their eyes refocused and took in the wonderful sight before them. The new works were incredible. The colours, the passion, the love, the joy, the happiness, the tension, the darkness, the sadness, the emptiness, the loneliness, all of it was plainly visible on the canvas. Broad strokes covered backgrounds of splattered beauty. Crazy lines seemed to leap out and make love to the eyes of the viewers. People began to chatter excitedly and move from one canvas to the next, some moving quickly, hoping to see as many as possible in a short space of time, others standing transfixed, drinking it all in and letting their eyes scan all of the component parts before moving on to the next display.

Terrence got another rush as the conversations sprang up around the room. It was hard to remain cool and humble on the outside while inwardly he was electric with glee. He relished surprising a group of people who were hypnotised by one piece, they were so deep in conversation that they did not see him approach. A man with a blue bow tie was just explaining that he thought the that yellow slash that ran through the head of a cubic human figure was MacFarlane saying that the person had been stuck by an idea, that they had got some sort of inspiration. Terrence leaned in and said ‘Actually, I just like the colour yellow.’

The group straightened in surprise and their faces changed as they realised that it was MacFarlane himself who was speaking with them. ‘Mr MacFarlane,’ said Mr blue bow tie. ‘This is an exceptional piece. In a very simple way it seems to be communicating a complex message.’

‘Well, yes, that is one way of looking at it,’ replied Terrence as he looked from person to person in the small group. ‘But sometimes it pays to not try and go too deep when looking for meaning. Sometimes our confirmation bias will just make us see what we want to see.’ Almost as one the group nodded in understanding, as if he had just said something very deep and profound, when in fact he had not really said anything of substance except for some pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo.

He left them hanging with that thought and quietly moved on. Mr blue bow tie had opened his mouth to say something, but Terrence had gone before he could say anything.

More handshakes, some shoulder slaps, a little bit of light conversation and pressing of the flesh, and then it was time for the auction. The attendees had had close to forty-five minutes to look over the works and make their decisions on what they liked and how much they would be willing to pay for it.

The mechanics of the auction never interested Terrence, the only part of it that he pricked his ears up for was the final price called as the gavel fell. He mentally added the numbers up in his head as the auction progressed and quietly nodded to himself as they reached seven figures.

He was in hot demand, and it felt good. Very, very good.

The other thing that felt good was the two beautiful ladies in the limousine with him. He told himself that they were there because they were genuinely interested in him, but somewhere deep down he knew that it had more to do with this celebrity, his draw, and his money. He could live with that, and would make the most of the night, knowing full well that by the time morning came they would have both left the hotel and he would be alone again.

Sure enough when he woke up, the giant bed was a mess, and as he felt around under the covers, he found no beautiful women in there, just a couple of used condoms and avery tiny g-string. He flicked the condoms on to the floor and held up the underwear. He took a long deep sniff and thought these are the spoils of war.

His agent met him in the lobby later for brunch, and even though his head hurt and every exposure of light felt like a dagger in his eyes, he managed to have a reasonably coherent conversation. His calculations of the figures for the night were close to spot on, and he knew that once the gallery exhibition had run its course the new owners would be very proud of their MacFarlanes.

Two hours later he was on a plane heading home and eased his business class chair back slightly. He ignored the stewardess’s offer of a whiskey and closed his eyes. He dreamed of colour and shapes and breasts and smiles, and was awoken by the ding of the seatbelt sign as the plane began its descent. He loved this life, and even the sight of his driver waiting to meeting him gave him another rush of excitement. Eased into the back of the car, the early evening lights of the city whipped by through tinted windows.

And just like that he was home.

The driver took Terrence’s bags up to the front door where they shook hands. Terrence slipped the driver some cash and they parted ways.

The front door creaked open and the quietness hit him like a wall. After being on the go for the last day or so, the solitude was a welcome relief. The hallway stretched out before him and the familiar smell of the varnished wood filled his nostrils. That’s the smell of home he said to himself. He wheeled his bags into the front room since he couldn’t be bothered with them right now. The sound of the door echoed as he closed it, the wooden floor and high ceilings acting as an amplifier.

He flicked on the hall light and walked down to the kitchen, enjoying the coolness of the house. He switched on his toasted sandwich maker, and from the fridge he grabbed some ham and cheese. The butter sizzled as he assembled everything on the little hot plates and closed up the appliance. While the sandwich cooked he opened a can of soft drink and leaned against the kitchen bench.

Soon enough a little green light lit up on the sandwich maker indicating that it was done and taking care to not burn his fingers he lifted the toasties onto a plate. Picking up the can of drink he walked back down the hallway and opened the door to the basement. As the door swung open he could see a dim light at the bottom of the long staircase and he carefully made his way down. At the bottom of the stairs he turned left and faced the large open space that formed the subterranean basement.

Stacked on one wall were a number of large canvasses and the room smelled of paint. He walked over to a large table in the centre of the room and put down the food and drink. There was a half finished canvas on the table, and Terrence’s brother sat slumped asleep in his wheelchair, his fingertips covered in paint, and flecks on his shirt.

Terrence sneered and shook his head. Typical he thought. You useless sack of crap, I told you I wanted this painting finished by the time I got back. He picked up the sandwich plate and put it down again, hard enough that the noise made his brother jerk awake. Terrence’s brother couldn’t string a sentence together due to his disabilities, but it was clear from his seemingly uncontrolled arm movements that he was pleased to see Terrence. His head, which seemed to be permanently tilted to one side, lolled and a line of drool ran down his chin. As always, Terrence was unmoved, but just stood there eyeing his brother with a look on his face like he had just bitten a lemon.

‘Didn’t I tell you I wanted this finished by the time I got back? Why haven’t you done it?’ he yelled. ‘God you’re useless. How did I get stuck with you?’ He let out a disappointed sigh. He picked up the plate again and dropped it in his brother’s lap. ‘Eat that and then you’d better get that painting finished or I’ll be very angry with you. You need to work faster!’

His brother wiggled in his chair as if in protest but Terrence just turned and started climbing the stairs. At the top he turned and looked down toward the dim light again. He closed the door.

Gotta keep him working, gotta keep him painting and making me money.