The swirl of oil colors sits next to me. “Hello, Al,” it says; its voice sounds like it’s coming through a tiny radio with a cheap antenna.
“Hey, beautiful. Glad you could make it out. How’s the material world?” I order us some beer.
“I wouldn’t know. How’s the art world?” The painting laughs. “This is as far out as I’ve been in months.” It drinks, its colors turning subtly brighter.
“I know. Aren’t you bored, living in that frame all the time?”
“You’d be surprised just how comforting a frame can be, when a frame is what you need.”
We go back to my place again. This one, the Llado, isn’t anything out of the ordinary: lavender and orange-yellow and green and a murky white. We make love quietly.
After, it lies there a while, not saying much. It starts to cry, softly, and then it explodes, covering my walls in streaks of its palette. My chest is covered in lavender, and the bedside lamp flickers and dies from the yellow. I try to wipe it away but my hands just get messy. “Why’d you do that?” I say.
“I’m tired of being looked at,” it answers. The voice is coming from everywhere, the walls, my lamp, it vibrates into my chest and hands. “Tired of standing still. You know what I want to do? I want to take classes, learn to fly a plane. A big one, the kind that slides slow and steady against the horizon.” It pulls itself in, congeals next to me in the exact form it takes when it goes home to its frame: two clutches of flowers I can’t identify, shot through with greenery. Like any model, it rarely spends its free time striking poses. “But you like this better,” it says, “don’t you?”
“Hey, what’s wrong with looking good? Besides, you could kill yourself flying one of those things.”
Some guys keep huge collections — eclectic and varied, spanning the whole of the world in geography and time. Others stick to a single type, a place, a period, one single artist. I know a few women who collect, too, but it’s hard to know how they feel about their paintings, or how the paintings feel about them; women rarely take their pieces out for drinks.
I don’t collect, myself. I keep one piece at a time, sometimes for a few weeks, others for years. Always just the one, like a sidekick.
It keeps its pose, does not budge. “You know a pilot, right? George? Think you could ask him where one might go to learn that kind of thing? I’m clueless, absolutely clueless on the subject. But you know, I want to get way up in the sky, I want to get seven miles up so that I can look at the world the way the world looks at me.”
I nod a few times. I won’t be calling George. “I moved your frame to the spare bedroom.”
I’m not interested in much; I work, I eat and drink rapturously, I own my painting and once a year I go camping in Appalachia alone.
But yesterday I did what I previously believed unthinkable: I went to a museum. It was a debased and vulgar thing, these women and children and men staring, examining every last brush stroke. It was horrible and stirring and then I did something worse: I went to a gallery. Bought a cheap thing by a local starving artist, gaudy primary colors, and spent a few hours with it in the park. Even though I keyed the canvas of the new painting, slashed it and stomped its flimsy plastic frame and left it in a garbage can, I cannot explain this to my painting and I cannot go back to it the way I used to. I return to my office late in the night and start making phone calls. Not many people are looking for Llados these days. Finally I get a bite. A collector from some Euro-trash pit. I quote him a price seven percent lower than the current market value.
“Is cheap,” he says, sounding both pleased and suspicious. Then he adds, “You tell me why.”
The upside of selling a painting is that you can pass it along at will. That, and the money. The downside of it is all the time you spent with this painting going up in smoke, and you don’t know what happens to it once it leaves your hands. You get ideas, and in the middle of the night you may wake up wanting it and uncertain of its location and well-being, but who knows. Not your business.
A car rolls into my driveway and there’s an eventual knock on the door. It’s the buyer, big and cobbled-together looking and come all the way from Bulgaslovakia to my house, check in hand. I hand him my Llado, held in a plain oak frame, and watch him hold it away from his body to better admire it, which I don’t like very much. Then he tucks it under his arm, which I like even less, and he shakes my hand and turns to go.
I catch one last glimpse of my Llado, posing. I was a long way from its first, we both knew, and I wouldn’t be its last. Still, its colors never looked so dull.
“Don’t forget the rest of the deal,” I say to his back. “When you get on your jet, it doesn’t go in luggage.” I start to talk faster. “It gets a seat next to you. That’s part of the seven percent, part of what we agreed on.” He sits in his chauffeured car, and the hand that shook mine, took my Llado, gives me a little wave, a one-hand-clapping motion from out of the mirrored window. Then I’m yelling, “It gets a window seat!”
Stephen Skipp lives, writes and studies in Philadelphia.