By Kala Séraphin
The two men stood before the painting, scrutinizing it as if the future of art depended on it. They took notes and made faces; they looked at each other, unimpressed and bored. After an hour of studying the giant picture, the tallest man in a bright orange suit said:
“It’s crap.” His deep voice was flat and devoid of emotion.
“Absolutely! I can’t believe this piece was submitted for our gallery. I mean, this person obviously didn’t summon the Angels before puking up this abomination.” The other man was shorter and slimmer. He wore a similar suit in different shades of blue. He had a large mustache dyed the same blue as his necktie.
A woman walked into the room. She quietly approached the duo, wringing her hands.
“Sheila, you’re wasting our time here! Why did you bring us this trash?” Asked the man in the orange suit.
“It’s different from all the others. Without assistance from the Angels, the artist exposes his humanity. I find it beautiful in its vulnerability.” She explained in a quivering voice.
In union, the men snorted.
“If people wanted the imperfections of humanity they would simply look in the mirror. That’s why we have the Angels! They make everything perfect and beautiful to look upon,” replied the man with the blue mustache.
They both walked out of the observation room, their noses upturned with disdain.
Sheila looked up at the painting. It was twice as tall as she was. The picture depicted a simple scene of a man and a woman in a lover’s embrace. He stood with one leg wrapped around her waist. She was a small creature in his arms, likewise wrapping one leg around his waist. She looked up to him and he gazed down at her, lust burning in both their eyes.
It wasn’t a new subject matter. Many artists had depicted the same scene before. What made this picture stand out was its lack of conventional beauty. The artist did not invoke the Angels to guide his brush and so there were many imperfections screaming out at the audience. This humane painting captured Sheila’s attention and she was determined to showcase it for everyone to see. She believed people needed to be reminded what humanity looked like.
“They didn’t like it, did they?” He walked out of the shadows as if from nowhere. He called himself the Artist. An unlikely man dressed in somber colours. He hid a receding hairline under a hat that created shadows over his face.
“They need time to think about it,” She lied.
“It’s useless Sheila. No one wants to look at some crazy picture I painted.” The Artist exclaimed, looking up at the painting. He was fond of his creation and wanted to protect it from the world and their ideals of beauty.
Sheila laid a hand on his shoulder. She wanted to comfort him.
“Who is she?” She asked, looking at the picture lovingly.
There was a strange expression on the Artist’s face. He reminisced of a time far from the present. It brought on waves of emotions both pleasant and painful. He bit his lower lip, struggling to keep a story from escaping.
“Once upon a time, not too long ago. In a far away land, much like yours and mine… She showed me that Angels weren’t the only authority on beauty.” The Artist mumbled.
The following week, Sheila contacted all the people she knew in the art world. The reactions were all the same. This strange, imperfect painting had no business trying to slip into pop culture.
“There’s a queer feeling to it,” claimed an older gallery owner, as she gazed up at the couple.
“What do you mean?” Sheila asked.
“I’m not quite certain but; it reminds me of a lost love. It brings up horrible feelings that I don’t want to remember. Pain is best buried away and forgotten dear; just like this painting.” The older woman explained.
“But that’s what makes this painting so beautiful. Everyone can relate to it,” countered Sheila.
The gallery owner took off her glasses, shaking her head.
“You are right, dear. Everyone can relate to it. That’s exactly why it will never make it. No one wants to be reminded of their past pains.” She said and walked away, leaving Sheila alone with the painting.
She touched the canvas, enjoying the feel of the paint on her fingertips. She leaned in, pretending that she was the woman in the painting. Sheila imagined the strong arms holding her and felt appeased by it. Tears came to her eyes.
“I’ll find a way to make them see how beautiful you are.” She whispered.
Weeks went by and the Artist’s work received countless more rejections. Sheila persisted in approaching her friends in the art world. All agreed that a painting without the influence of the Angels was a waste.
By luck, Sheila ran into a friend that worked as an accountant for a filming company. After a lunch spent catching up and flirting, she explained to her friend about the painting. He hatched a plan to have the work of controversial art on television along with the Artist. Sheila thanked her friend, feeling confident that her mission would finally be successful.
Like in a dream, the day of the interview came. It was in a large recording studio that they all gathered. The audience seats were full of curious and eager art lovers. The hostess pranced around like a deer, greeting her fans as the staff behind the camera did all the work. The Artist sat by his painting, wearing his hat low upon his brow and sulking slightly. He did not like the idea of exposing himself through a media as cheap as television. Sheila had begged him to let the painting come to light and enlighten the public and begrudgingly, he agreed.
Finally, the show started. The hostess went on, talking about art and its predictability. She spoke mindlessly about starting a movement, beginning with the Artist’s piece. As it was unveiled, a small wave of murmurs spread through the audience. No one knew how to react.
The Artist took a look at his art, and then looked at the audience.
“I’m not trying to start a movement. This is what I created and that’s it. I’m unapologetic about it.” He said.
“But why didn’t you use the Angels to create it?” Asked someone in the audience.
“Because this is my art. I didn’t set out to offer the world perfection in return for fame and praise. I did it because it was in me and needed to come out.” The Artist was calm as he revealed his lack of motivation. It further confused the audience. There was a heavy silence until the hostess asked the simple question of why.
That was when Sheila stepped on stage, not to defend the Artist but to stand up for her feelings.
“I think it’s time we stopped hiding behind out Angelic world and bright colours. We’ve all had a moment where our hearts broke. When I saw this painting, I felt vulnerable in front of so much emotion. It made me sick but it also reminded me of how human I am.” She declared.
The whole audience felt uncomfortable. They looked down at their feet, they coughed, they whispered to their neighbors but no one supported Sheila’s attempt at bringing people down to earth.
“What about the Angels? If we weren’t meant to strive to be like them, then why would they interact with us?” The hostess asked.
“Flowers grow, bloom and share their scent regardless of people. If someone sees them and makes a bouquet, it changes nothing for the flowers. They continue to be as they be and smell as sweet as ever. Same goes for cats, dogs, birds and yes, Angels.” The Artist reasoned.
“Who made you the expert on Angels?” The question came from an unknown face in the crowd.
A finger rose from the Artist and pointed to the woman in the painting.
“She did. Imagine living in the shadow of a father who is an Angel and not inheriting a single one of his traits. She was all too human and yet she made it the most beautiful experience ever. In the brief time we are given, we spend our days trying to be what we’re not; Angelic. This woman embraced her humanity and shared her love like no other.” His voice quivered with pain as he explained to everyone his attachment to the artwork.
And so the best kept secret was revealed to all; that Angels were not simply a force that helped humans achieve a higher perfection in the aesthetics. They also possessed a hunger for humans. They were capable of reproducing with such an imperfect specie.
After the ruckus, Sheila followed the Artist until they were alone. She was desperate to learn more about this tragic romance. Lingering behind the Artist, she tried to get his attention. He dressed, walked down the halls, then outside to the parking lot all without acknowledging her.
“I’ve got nothing more to say to you.” He finally said, standing by his car, not looking at her.
Sheila let out a sigh and replied:
“I want to know about her! What happened?”
The Artist ignored her plea. He unlocked the door to his car and was about to climb in when Sheila stopped him by grabbing hold of his shoulder and called out his name. Out of anger, he spun around to face her and tore off his hat to offer her a clear view of his face.
His blond hair thinned out in a widow’s peak. His skin held scars of the past with wrinkles spreading from the corner of his eyes and mouth. Red eyes looked at Sheila with hurt and impatience. Dark circles bordered the sick eyes, making his cheekbones even more pronounced and sinister. It was not the kind of face to make women swoon.
“You want to know what happened? I met the Angel’s daughter and fell in love. She stayed with me for a brief moment until her whimsical heart took her away to far more exciting adventures. We are here for such a short span of time, she explained to me. She needed to be free. Yeah, free to fuck the next interesting looking guy she found.” As he released his secret, spit dribbled to his lower lip. It was hard for him to share his story in a controlled manner.
Sheila took a step back, stunned by the revelation of the Artist’s face and story. She had harbored a more romantic tale. Maybe the girl had died from some mysterious disease. Instead, Sheila discovered a very common ending. The Angel’s daughter just wasn’t taken by the Artist and decided to move on.
“I’m so…” but before she could finish her sentence, he held up his hand.
The Artist had no need for sympathy. Without a word more, he got in his car and drove off. Sheila watched as the car disappeared around the bend. She felt so empty. She went back inside and looked upon the painting with new eyes.