The Show

by themapofantarctica

 

‘I know she tries’, Molly said. ‘I try too. We all try.’

Susanna did not reply.

‘She doesn’t know what people have done for her. She could show more appreciation.’

‘I am not going to moderate here, said Graham.

‘You couldn’t if you tried, facts are facts. You know that.’

‘You’ve tried speaking to her’, said Susanna.

‘Tried.’ Molly let out an exasperated snort. ‘I’ve tried alright. The problem is she never takes it in. Her head is in the clouds. She’s not in the real world half the time.’

‘What gets me is the way she looks down on people. You can tell.’ Susanna paused. ‘She doesn’t say it but you can tell.’

‘I’d rather things were out in the open’, said Molly. ‘Just be straight with people. What do you think Graham?’

‘I like to know where I stand’, he said raising an eyebrow.

‘Just like the rest of us’, she snapped back without even the briefest hesitation.

‘What do you think of her work? Asked Susanna.

‘Not all its cracked up to be, said Molly. As a painter she’s average at best. Run of the mill.

Graham looked out of the window.

‘What do you think she would do if she could hear us talking like this’, he asked.

‘Change her name an leave the country?’

They laughed.

‘Not a bad idea for her’, said Susanna.

‘If she could actually get herself together.’

 

***

 

The way he moved. He had ranging strides. Knees and elbows jutted against the backdrop of the city. The pavement didn’t stand a chance in keeping up. He navigated corners without thinking. His momentum was like that. Without thought. He knew where he was going.

Jake Thornton arrived at the Lexicon Gallery at 8pm. There were already enough people inside to be called a gathering. The private view was a showing of Angel Vasquez’s latest paintings. He had known Angel for some years, though their contact of late had been somewhat infrequent. He sidled in past the doorman and towards the drinks where he took hold of a glass of red wine and nodded a thank you at the waiter. He scanned the faces of the crowd around him. Nothing quite struck him as familiar, though recognition triggered in a few places. Some friends of friends of friends. Not close enough to say hello to. He sipped on his wine.

The paintings were large. Images of animals in urban settings. They looked like commentaries on habitat, on context, but also on climate change and the future of the planet. He stood and looked at a painting of a Yak looking out of a fifteenth floor window. The man stood next to him spoke.

‘It’s like a hybrid of Rousseau and Hopper, no?’

‘I suppose so’, he said.

The man was wearing a long coat, glasses, a scarf and brimmed hat.

‘I’ve seen others do the same. It’s not new’, he said. A handkerchief was neatly folded in his jacket pocket and he stood naturally erect, chin raised. He was probably born and raised in Mayfair.

Jake sighed to himself. The man continued.

‘It’s rare though, that you see something breathtaking come along.’

The sound of the crowd was ebbing around them. Jake was stuck outside of the draw. There was a crucial awkwardness to his pairing with the man. The fluorescent lights buzzed above their heads. Elsewhere conversation was thriving.

‘You know, I met Lucien Freud once.’

‘Really?’ Said Jake.

‘A genuinely great artist.’ He paused. ‘People say that sort of thing a lot but it rarely means what it does here. He was a painter who could cut you in half with a stroke of the brush.’

The man was clearly in love with the sound of his own voice. A security guard stood in a suit and tie a few feet away. A radio was attached to his trousers.

‘Do you know the curator here?’

‘I can’t say I do.’

‘A gormless man with a great haircut. I had to concentrate on the quiff when talking to him.’ He stopped. ‘My advice; inhale the Brylcreem. If you get high enough it doesn’t matter what he says.’

The man laughed to himself, his eyes squinting so that lines erupted across his face. He was not even drinking.

Jake looked around. There was still no sign of Angel. Perhaps she was securing deals in an office nearby, he thought.

Bodies pushed against one another and music swept above their heads.

‘Good turnout’, said Jake, trying to make conversation.

The man in the scarf and glasses turned his head away in a straight rejection of Jake’s words.

By nine thirty Jake was tired of standing on the pavement with a glass of wine in his hand. The gallery was still busy and he had found a group of people he recognised to stand amidst. He let his shoulders sag as they discussed the art review pages along with various names and institutions that he recognised. He watched their mouths snapping.

He left, turning his back to the group of hyena’s who probably didn’t notice him go.

Angel never turned up.

 

***

 

Graham Clark was writing his review for the London Art Paper, critiquing the latest show at the Utopia Gallery. A group show containing sculpture, photography and painting from some supposedly ‘next big things’.

‘What’s another word for dull?’ He asked.

‘Vapid?’

‘Mindless.’

‘Vacuous.’

The office was an organism that thrived on the language of distaste.

‘I like vapid’, he said striking at the keyboard of his laptop.

‘You sound impressed,’ said Jim.

‘There are only so many times I can stand having to hear young artists say that they are taking a subversive approach to the late capitalist system by appropriating adverts and ironising their indulgence.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘The video of the young girl eating an ice cream to the sound of jingling cash registers didn’t make me think about Lolita or sinister commerce… it made me want to eat an ice cream. Which, incidentally, is what I did when I left the gallery.’

‘I bet that helped.’

‘Went down a treat,’ he said.

The two lines of computers were humming a symphony of flat tones.

‘Well at least you don’t have to report on another multiple stabbing’, said Jim.

‘I’d rather I were,’ he said, ‘I’d rather I were the victim even.’ They sneered. ‘You know it’s not that different. Describing the ambience, the context. Life can be like art sometimes.’

Graham continued writing for a moment.

‘You know, I met one of the artists in the show and they didn’t know who Jackson Pollock was. It’s like anything before 1990 is for archaeologists. She was called Annie Winchester. She made it onto my hate list.’

‘You actually have a hate list. I don’t need you to confirm this for me.’

‘Reasons to stay on my good side’, said Graham, smiling to himself.

 

***

 

The studio was jammed with angled canvases and pots of turps. Brushes jutting out and easels slanting against the wall that was daubed with blue and black and orange paint.

‘I love your show,’ said Annie.

‘I’m not happy with it,’ said Angel furrowing her brow. ‘I wanted it to be more focussed. The paintings, they are not as I had hoped.’

‘You got a good reception though, and the opening night was a success, no?’

‘I suppose so. I hate those events though. They are so fake.’

‘Part of the world you’re in’, said Annie ruefully.

‘I pursued art to get away from the superficial, not indulge in it.’ Angels face was stoney.

‘We are going to disagree here. Lets talk about something else.’

Angel fell silent.

‘You’d make a great film star. Those cheekbones.’

She smiled but did not reply.

‘Did you see the news? The Pope was in Istanbul.’

After a few attempts at neutral conversation Annie lost patience.

‘You know Angel, not everyone is as thoughtful as you. You have to accept. It’s a hard world. You can’t hide away forever.’

Angel stood up and went outside to the corridor, tears welling in her eyes. Annie didn’t tend to her, instead turned the other way down the corridor as she left the studio. Away from Angels hunched body that leaned against the hardboard wall.

 

***

 

David stood in the trees with his digital film camera. He was accumulating footage of trees and natural settings. Greenery. He left the camera rolling for minutes on end, pointing into the forest. Daisy, his assistant, opened a flask of tea.

‘The framing is good’, she said.

‘I didn’t think about it too much.’

‘Not too forced.’

‘I refuse to get stressed. It may be a commission, but they are paying me peanuts.’

‘Did they make requests about content.’

He shook his head.

‘I just said I would deconstruct the divisions between internalisation and externalisation. That I would recontextualise the urban essence of their workspace.’ He smiled. ‘Basically, I will take some footage outside and it will be screened inside.’

Daisy laughed.

‘Businesses are suckers. You just need to know what to tell them.’

‘So long as it looks pretty’, she said.

David lit a cigarette and stepped away from the camera so as not to let smoke drift across the shot.

‘What about sound?’ asked Daisy.

‘Not sure yet. I’ll take a look at the footage first.’

They both paused and looked at the digital camera, it’s minature screen showing a two dimensional replica of their surroundings.

‘You know, some of these trees will be hundreds of years old’, said David.

They both stood and looked up at the branches that criss crossed aagainst the blue sky, leaving them suspended in duskish light.

‘It feels somehow wrong to have technology here at all’, said Daisy. ‘Like it exhausts everything it comes into contact with. Since the death of the reel, filming has known no limits. We are effectively surrounded.’

‘Engulfed’, he said.

The camera carried on shooting.

 

***

 

Jake and Annie were walking through the city talking about artistic trends.

‘The zeitgeist is weary’, said Jake.

‘Shock factor gone’, said Annie.

‘The truth used to be shocking. Thats why people used to shock with art. Not any more. Society has opened up. There are no taboo’s that people want challenged, no stigma’s that people need transforming.’

Soho diminished into a backing track of repetitious thrashings, bars and cafe’s swirling in the evening’s diminishing light.

‘There’s nothing worse than people trying to shock and failing.’

Jake agreed.

‘Amatuerish’, he said.

‘I tend to get bored by film art but I’ve seen nothing new in painting or sculpture’, said Annie.

‘I always want something on a larger scale. Something ambitious.’

‘It’s rare you get anyone trying that, these days.’

‘It doesn’t have to be bombastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making an argument for the 1980’s. I hate empty statements.’

She laughed.

‘I’m not disagreeing’, she said. ‘There is a definitive lack of energy in the field. It’s easy to hate everything.’

‘Malaise’, he said.

‘Ennui’, she said.

‘Hate’, he said smiling.

‘I know’, said Annie. ‘Raw and undirected.’

They laughed.

 

***

 

Graham was sitting at his desk at home. Molly burst in, panicked.

‘Did you hear the news? David has died. He got hit by a car two nights ago in Central London.’

‘This isn’t a joke’, he said.

‘Hard facts.’

There was a long pause where they looked at each other, both shaken.

‘I don’t know how to respond to information that doesn’t have an ironic tangent any more.’

‘Now is the time.’

‘Who told you?’

‘Daisy. I just found out.’

She was trembling, upset.

‘I don’t think I hated David.’

‘I’m pretty sure you did. Your perspective is shifting. Emotions do that to you.’

‘I should run a piece.’

‘Don’t you feel bad?’ Molly asked. ‘This is our generation.’

‘He deserves that much. I’ll run a piece.’

‘It still hasn’t sunk in. He was a prospect.’

‘He was certainly that. It won’t be the same. Without him, I mean.’

‘Should we do a card? For his family?’

‘Do we know his family?’

She paused.

‘A community gesture.’

‘He was above the community. I think that’s the point I want to make.’

They paused again and the stillness struck them both.

‘I can’t remember the last time I cried’, said Graham.

 

***

 

The funeral was a busy day. Everybody from the scene turned up.

‘The reading was fantastic’, said Daisy. ‘He would have like it.’ She had tears in her eyes.

Angel breathed deeply and forced a smile.

‘It was nice. Everyone showed. More than I expected’, she said.

People were filing past as they spoke. After a few minutes Angel moved on, spoke to Susanna, who was wearing sunglasses to cover her eyes. The afternoon sun was beaming down in what was a cold autumn day. Groups had formed and some were ready to disperse, away from the cemetery.

Jake and Annie stood and hunched their shoulders at the stark cold, sought shelter in one anothers company.

Graham and Molly were side by side as they departed. Graham in a suit, Molly in a long black dress. They offered their condolences to David’s family, and to Daisy who stood nearby.

‘The flowers are beautiful’, said Molly.

David’s mother and father nodded.

THE END

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