Santanu Borah recounts the story of an artist who overworked his piece because he didn’t know when the “love-making” with his canvas was over
Some of the funniest people I have met in my life have been artists. While artists are given to many moments of melancholy, deep down you can often find a childlike hedonist. Sometimes an artist is not even aware that she or he is funny. And that’s the part I like.
I must tell you about a friend of mine who had this habit of labouring over a piece of work and overworking on it, till it became an unrecognisable piece of questionable qualities. One day, unable to take his misery after another overworked failure, I decided it was time for an intervention. “Why do you overwork your pieces, Pradip?” I asked him. His answer was a sad whimper that seemed to have no real words in it. I went on to elaborate how, when asked how he knew a painting was done, Jackson Pollock posed a question as the answer, “How do you know making love is over?” That’s a smart rhetoric. So, I told Pradip that he needs to stop when he “orgasms”, just like Pollock.
The following week we met again and I asked him if he was able to stop at the right time. His answer was yet another whimper without words. I asked him to show me his new work, out of curiosity. Sure enough, it was another overworked mess. Obviously, I look in his direction and quizzed him non-verbally. And he drawled out an answer: “Look, maybe, I never orgasm or I cannot recognise an orgasm. Maybe, I am asexual in my art.” I could spy a sliver of anxiety on his forehead.
We left it that and moved on with our lives. After a few months, I received a call from Pradip. He was in high spirits and had a lot to say. After a bit of rambling about his process, he told me that he had figured out his orgasmic point. “I realise that I am greedy. I see all these colours and I feel political about it. I want all of it represented equally and it does not work out. So, now I have cut my palette to just two colours. When I have squeeze out the last drop of paint, I orgasm whether I like it or not!”
Needless to say, I found his solution bizarre. My curiosity was ruffled again. I wanted to see what he had done. I asked him if I could see the painting that broke his asexual nature. I went down to his house and was happy to see a beaming artist who had just negotiated a difficult turn in his practice. Now, it was time for the pudding to prove itself. Unfortunately, the new painting too was an overworked mess of blue and black. At least, that is what I thought. With some trepidation, I gave him my verdict. He wasn’t very happy, but added that there was “no other way I can orgasm”.
While it might seem unsolicited to you, I decided to give my advice regardless. “Look, the orgasm is within you, not outside you. You have to know whether the piece is done. You can’t wait for the tubes to get over to understand your work is done. Stopping is, often, as crucial as starting,” I said to him. Slightly crestfallen, he said something that I still haven’t understood, “I guess as long as I have so many colours I will not be able to find out when I am done. Which is why I am going into conceptual art.” And then he smiled a smile of relief. For some weird reason, it reminded me of a bumper sticker that an artist had put on his scooter: “My other car is a bike, too.”
Well, there are certain things you can never understand. I never questioned him after that day. I guess some of us orgasm differently. As for the conceptual art bit, I don’t know what my friend is up to. And a part of me is happy not knowing about it.
A curious case of cheating
This is something I read many years ago. An anecdote that might even be fictional. But it does have oodles of truth in it.
An artist had been working on a nude for a few months. It was some sort of a magnum opus. In his effort to achieve perfection, he worked long hours, putting coat upon coat of paint. His model was patient with his process and never showed her displeasure even when her body would ache. Soon, the labourious process resulted in the artist being able to really make his painting stand out in its luminous glow.
However, this meticulous process of working made the artists drop down with fatigue one day, before he was done. Since his model was already present in his studio, he told her they would take an easy day, talk over a glass of wine and get to know each other better. He asked her to put her clothes back on, and they embarked upon this rare moment of relaxation.
After a couple of hours of conversation, the wine flowing liberally, they heard a car arrive outside. Suddenly, the artist jumped out his chair and told the model, “Oh no! It’s my wife! Quick, take off your clothes!”
The moral of the story, as I see it, is that it is best not to rouse up your spouse. With that, I would like to sign off. See you next week.