Ok, this story is in progress; here is a part of it. Update: It's a mess, a mess, I'm working on it. It seemed so clear in the beginning, what I wanted to say and now I just can't get back to my original idea. I'll just keep working on it, I guess.
Every Sunday I meet three other women who live in ________. We paint together, in a small studio which belongs to an artist, a man, who instructs us in perspective, figure drawing, and color. The lessons are informal, the fee is minimal. After our lesson, we three women will have coffee together, a little something to eat too, in a shop not far from the studio. Today it rained and the lessons were cut short, as the others were eager to go home. I stopped for coffee with the artist. He is a curious man, he teaches at a school not far from here. He paints very odd paintings, tiny as miniatures, filled with devils and goblins, red-faced and snarling amidst flowers and gardens, wondrous landscapes behind the monsters, tiny worlds visible only if you peer very close. The monsters are oddly pretty, they have tiny scales, fine as lace, across their skin and the eyes are large and limpid, at odds with the fangs and tiny horns on their heads. They are beautiful.
As he sits across from me I note that he is very meek looking: his hair is fine and receding at the front, his teeth are yellow from the cigarettes he smokes, his clothes are disheveled, his fingers are stained with color - red, blue, green. He is not fastidious and drinks his coffee in little slurps, he cools it first by blowing out his lower lip and letting a little stream of breath, like frost, cover the top of the liquid. He does this between alternate sips. As he does this, I turn my head. I am eating cake, but not drinking coffee.
"Do you think we are learning anything?" I say.
"Of course. Of course." He says this twice and nods after each little phrase. "Your painting is coming along nicely, I think you are progressing." I pay you, I think, but even so, I think he means what he says. He doesn't expect much from us, we are a painting and social club, we meet to chase away the Sunday grayness. It is a very good way to spend a Sunday and the other women are chatty and kind. They are much older than me, married, with grown children and retired husbands. Filled with advice, brimming over with advice - about apartments to buy, recipes to try, nice nephews to meet, make sure you take your vitamins, they will say, we have read these things in a magazine. And, you are too thin. They could be my mother.
The artist is different. He is a patient teacher, if absent minded, kind and ugly, and sad. He is depressed, I am pretty sure. If the lesson goes on too long, he will sigh, a woman's sigh, and look longingly out the window.
I have a secret. I am painting him. Not in class, but at home. I have a separate project which I have not shown the others. Each class, I look and look at him out of the corner of my eye, I memorize the shape of his ears, the rounded shoulders, the thin fingers, so frail and stained. I have a little place cleared out on my dining room table and have laid out a small canvas. Next to it are rows of oil paints, I have put down a cloth to keep the table from getting paint on it.
After class, I paint a little bit of it, so different than my painting in class which is of a bowl of fruit, carefully arranged. His painting is dull, as dull as I can make it, the proportions are all wrong, the colors are dark, they are smudged, he is being formed out of gray and flat blue, dark greens, mud browns. I give him a big nose, beady eyes, his teeth are enormous and flecked with bits of yellow. This is my real project. It delights me, this painting which is so coarse and shapeless, I fill it in a bit at a time. Oh! Please don't think I dislike my teacher. He is kind, and I am fond of him, but he is lying to us I think, he is telling us we can create beauty, we can rise to the challenge and nothing could be further from the truth. I know that to understand beauty you have to understand the absence of beauty, you have to imagine that which is unlovely, untamed, without light or spirit, that which repels.The bowl of fruit I am painting for class is very amateurish, no one would imagine I was an artist because I am not. But the little painting at home, the one on the table, is something dark and unrestrained. Who knew I had it in me?