It was mostly a blank white canvas, but it took up most of the wall. Once you walked closer to it, you would notice the delicate ink on it seemed to symbolise the small of a woman’s back, with a thick lock of curls falling casually to one side. There was a hint of her feet somewhere to the bottom right, just above the artist’s signature.
The minimalism was almost poetic.
The signature itself was small and elegant, but it had a personality of it’s own. It had sophisticated straight lines intermingling with a beautiful cursive, and my eyes lingered on it a second longer than they did on the rest of the canvas. I’d never heard of the artist before, but an acquaintance, whose creative sense I admired, had been devastated all week with the news of the artist’s demise and I just had to come down and see what all the fuss was about.
The gallery (a short walk away from my house) was holding an exhibition to commemorate the late artists’s wonderful work over the years and despite being only a couple of small rooms large, it was quite empty. By empty I mean the attendance was quite poor. However, now that I think of it, the walls looked quite empty too. There must have been twelve canvases in all (prints of course, they never displayed originals) and the canvases themselves were voids in terms of colour and story.
Looking at them felt meditative.
He’d died in his sleep, the papers said. He was eighty six years old, had been married once, had one daughter, painted twelve furiously popular works of art, and one night, after a hearty meal and three cocktails, he went to bed and never woke up.
He’d also done one interview for a magazine a decade ago. At the end of the gallery, they had framed the published pages (possibly for lack of enough artwork). The artist had talked about his mute style in great detail.
Why didn’t he use more colour?
He’d started off not being able to afford it. When he was discovered, he had been publicised by his discoverer as the painter of ‘Monotony in Monotone’, and thereafter, that had become his brand.
(Monotony in Monotone was an outline sketch of a woman sitting on a chair and looking directly at the viewer of the painting. Of course, just black ink on a white canvas)
Why did he not draw the surroundings of his subjects?
He said he was poor at it. So he’d decided not to.
Why were there only twelve artworks in his forty seven years of work? Was it to create artificial scarcity to increase the value of his paintings?
No. He just hadn’t felt like drawing all the time. He would just create one every time he felt like people were forgetting who he was.
What was his inspiration?
The noise, he had said.
The noise of everyday, collected over years. All the baggage, the stories and drama. The noise of things, of excess. The constant need for good food and fine company. For entertainment and material. The constant need for attention.
“But wasn’t that what got you going in the first place, the constant need for attention? You just mentioned you’d create every time you felt like people were forgetting who you were.”
“Yes. I’d create to remind myself that it didn’t matter. And I’d just draw what mattered.”
As I walked back to the entrance, I noticed each canvas was the sketch of a woman. Just a part of her. Not sensual, not detailed. Just a simple man’s drawing of the soft curve of the elbows of the woman who was enough for him.