No … no! I hate it when you get just a hint of something and have no means to find the rest. A fragment of a dream, a memory – but too fleeting to grasp.
The first brush stroke, ultramarine … and a mind-bending shock.
There’s something in that stroke. Something huge. A threat: a promise.
Something’s screaming inside me ‘DANGER!’.
I pull out my stool and study the blank area of the canvas. Looking round my cramped studio, an old pantry, I stare at paint daubed over the easel, stand oil on the dead fly covered windowsill, brushes in a paint-smeared jar: anything but look at that brush stroke.
Part of me is repelled by it, wants to run away: burn the canvas. Another part is fascinated and hopes that if I continue the painting I will learn more of what is happening.
OK, fascination is going to win; I know me: screw the risk.
Brush, palate – an old margarine pot lid – here goes. Three more brush strokes, my arms are beginning to shake. Sod them: that won’t stop me.
Sky it is… Blue. Ultramarine at the top, cobalt centre and cerulean on the horizon. Just the usual.
But the painting isn’t usual. Who’s painting this … me? It doesn’t feel like me.
Hmm, it is a part of me but a part that has never painted before. No matter that my body is shaking and sweating now, my mind screaming ‘STOP!’; some aspect of me wants to go on.
With a crumpled tissue I blend the paints and remove any trace of brush marks.
Titanium? Slate grey? How did these appear on my palate? Yes, I vaguely remember putting them there a moment ago.
A skull, a human skull, devoid of flesh and hair, appears under the sky. Empty eye sockets stare up into the blue.
A ribcage? What’s that about? This will never sell. This collection is for a commercial exhibition, flowers, pretty young women, seascapes… I know, but you can’t do art all the time – 90% of my meagre income derives from decoration.
I’m like a musician who can’t succeed with his own material but repeats pop at endless pub evenings or wedding receptions.
Why does art need stars? Why can’t artists all live on just enough rather than most of them being broke and one or two making millions?
I know so many brilliant artists who can barely earn enough to eat, whose marriages have broken up because they can’t work at a ‘real’ job. I think of their works and want to weep at the injustice. It’s not like you get millionaire celebrity bus drivers or carpet layers.
Ha! My old fury has taken my mind off the painting. What have we now?
I don’t remember doing the grass and plants that half obscure the bones. Wow! didn’t think I could paint yarrow in such exquisite detail. The delicacy of the tormentil astounds me.
OK, whatever part of me is painting this should have been at work right from the beginning of my career.
This one is going to a serious buyer.
How can I paint like this while my body trembles, sweats and gasps? My muscles, all over, ache through tension – fright and flight. My mind has seized in horror.
Something is stronger than them and rejoices: triumphant.
The painting is finished.
An element within me is so strong that, although I can’t control my mind and body, I can rise above the terror they express.
I sit; I stare.
Death – that’s it: I’ve painted my own death.
But it’s not the painting that’s the problem: It’s what lies behind it, beyond the paint.
I see it, just a glimpse, then more. Drink it in. I want it to envelop me.
My body relaxes – it’s beaten: my mind quails and cowers.
Silence and stillness flow into me. Perfect indestructible silence that will never know sound, stillness that can never be disturbed.
That’s why my body and mind fought. They are no longer needed.
I am looking at death, embracing it. My mind and body were only tools to get me there – a composite chrysalis. Now I can leave them behind and reach the perfection that is our ultimate destiny – our holy grail – our perfection.
The last things I experience are my head thudding on the floor and my mind blanking.
Silence … stillness.
©Gary Bonn, 2016