These stories are developed from the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] and are designed to entice you into that world and read them. Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter and visionary artist, is the star. Think of them as delightful appetizers. Enjoy and respond!
Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter, waited patiently in the café for the conceptual artist, Rinaldo, his nemesis and “friend”.
Alexander eyed the pastries glistening in the display case in the cafe. He thought of the French artist Chardin, who painted loaves, fruit and game in the seventeenth century.
Was Chardin’s bread tastier or his fruit sweeter than what lay before him now? Chardin’s pastries, he decided, looked more beautiful because they were filtered through that artist’s insight and sensibilities. Chardin had contributed himself to the work to this world through his eyes, spirit, heart and mind.
Alex’s mood was broken when Rinaldo marched in. Everyone in the café looked up in alarm as if a thunderstorm had cracked above their heads. Rinaldo slumped into the chair and nodded at the pastries. “Old art is like bread. It gets dry and stale.”
Shocked by Rinaldo’s apparent mind-reading, Alex said, “No, Rinaldo, you’re wrong! An artist, whether he be from centuries back or not yet born, has his being and a vision to bring to the world that which the world does not yet know is there to be seen.”
“Really, old man?”
Ferret like, Rinaldo grinned and wrapped his long black coat around himself.
What can that possibly mean?”
“Take any artist you like– Marcel Duchamp, the famous maker of readymades, will do,” said Alexander.
The waiter approached and they ordered coffee and cognac.
“Duchamp was a genius raising questions no one else has ever asked such as— what is art?” replied Rinaldo.
“Give me an example,” said Alex.
“The Mona Lisa, of course!
“Oh yes, very clever! Explain his thinking in painting a moustache on her.”
Slightly nervous, Rinaldo looked about as though he feared a set-up. “Duchamp wanted to prove that art could be created by taking what he called a readymade and changing it in some way such as adding a moustache.” He gave an elaborate shrug. “He drew the moustache on an old postcard where the original was reproduced.”
“What was his point?”
“That art can be found anywhere and everywhere. By altering it, even the most common object can become art.”
Alexander twirled the salt shaker on the table. “Is this lowly, everyday object art?”
Rinaldo’s eyes gleamed with feigned amusement. “Absolutely!”
Alex persisted. “But did the person, who made this salt shaker, think it was art?”
Under Alex’s quizzical eye, Rinaldo squirmed ever so slightly. “Of course not! That is where the artist comes in. Like Duchamp, an artist changes the found object.
“So if I dent this aluminum cap and set the bottle and cap in a gallery does that make it art?”
Rinaldo, most annoying when under siege, shrugged and tossed up his hands. “Why not? Art is whatever the artist says it is.”
“Really?” Tipping back in his chair, Alex chuckled. “If anything can be art, then nothing is art.”
Rinaldo glowered at him and made ready to leave. “What century are you from, Alex?”
Alex reached out. “Please Rinaldo. Do sit down. We’re having a wonderful conversation about art.”
Rinaldo slumped back in his seat.
Alexander knew to take care. Ever since he had won the Turner Prize for contemporary art with a landscape painting, Rinaldo had attacked him at every turn. Although he neither understood the man nor their relationship, he knew he must seek common ground with someone so easily offended.
“Well, my friend,” Alex began again, “I agree that Duchamp raised novel questions. It seems you also agree with me that Duchamp brought to the world that which it does not yet know is there to see. And so, he is a true artist—a visionary, in fact.”
Rinaldo smirked. “Well, old man, you’re showing promise. You’ve understood, Duchamp, a famous artist working over a century ago.” Before leaving, he turned back and said. “And I suppose you were thinking about that ancient guy, Chardin, when I came in. The one who paints bread, cheese and dead birds!” This time Rinaldo stood up and saluted Alex. “I leave you now, sir, to reflect upon the value of art produced in the rest of the 20th century.”
Left alone, Alexander reflected—Chardin added much more than a dent in a salt shaker. He added his heart and soul to whatever he painted.
In The Drawing Lesson, the first in The Trilogy of Remembrance, you’ll find out much more about Alex and Rinaldo–two men as different as fire and ice.