Can characters in novels escape their book pages and take over the web? Yes indeed! Just watch Alexander Wainwright and Rinaldo from The Drawing Lesson, the first in The Trilogy of Remembrance break loose and tell their own stories in their own voices. Why not? Don’t we all believe in freedom of speech?
Alexander is Britain’s finest landscape artist and Rinaldo is a famous conceptual artist. In each and every way they are. together, like fire and ice.
This is a story told by both Alex and Rinaldo [a mystery in ten parts]. Stay tuned for this serialization.
Alexander Wainwright at The Savoy.
My author, Mary E. Martin frequently refers to me as Britain’s finest landscape painter and this I find somewhat embarrassing.
I am a modest man who tries to live a quiet life in London. I find that such a lifestyle is best for the creative life which is quite challenging for me. But first, before I begin my story, let me introduce you to my neighbourhood. In the photograph below, you will see in the distance, my studio which is on the third floor of the red brick building.
My building is on the Embankment and has a marvelous view of the Thames from which you can see Westminster and Somerset House which houses the Courtald Gallery.
Looks like a dark and dreary day on the Thames, but considering what was about to happen in my life, that is appropriate. That morning, I received a note from my friend and art dealer, James Helmsworth. Below, you can see his gallery, where I exhibit my work.
Jamie has always given me sound advice and has done much to foster my career and so, I like to help him whenever I can.
But back to his note. It was marked Urgent!
The note read: Please join me for tea at the Savoy this afternoon. I need your help on matter pertaining to Rinaldo. Cheers, Jamie
Rinaldo? What on earth could Jamie want with him? Rinaldo is a famous conceptual artist but his art is nothing like that which Jamie usually handles. To be polite, Rinaldo is a disturber with a mission to disrupt the entire art world. He is not a man to be trifled with!
The story about Rinaldo and me is set out in The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance. I could write more about him and me, but read the book and you will find out for yourself.
He is both my nemesis and the one responsible for my artistic salvation.
But back to tea with Jamie at the Savoy. I entered this grand hotel on the Strand in London and looked about for Jamie.
Where could he be? After ten minutes, I did find him and, over tea, heard his incredible request. Because he knows the history of my artistic arguments with Rinaldo, I was very much taken aback!
But first, I want to talk to you about fictional characters—I, being one and also Rinaldo and in fact Jamie–believe it or not–is the finest fictional character.
For you, who sit at your computer or in your arm chair, I have no doubt that you feel entirely real. You breathe, you blink and rub your eyes. You feel the rumbles in your stomach which tell you it’s time for dinner.
Interestingly enough, Rinaldo, Jamie and I feel exactly the same way. How that could be possible, I have no idea. All of us feel very real except for one aspect— we wonder about whether we have free will. Do you, as a real person, have the same concern? I would not think so.
Here’s another question about fictional characters. Why do some live in the hearts and minds of readers forever while others drift off into the mists of time? Take for example—Ebenezer Scrooge or Mr. Pickwick. Both of them seem to have sprung fully formed as real people from the mind of Charles Dickens. There must be some special qualities in those characters which contribute to longevity. Perhaps it is in their genes.
Which reminds me—the other day I visited the Charles Dickens Museum just to have a quiet word with that superlative author.
Whom do you think was there? None other than Bill Sykes of Dickens’ Oliver Twist fame! Now there is a notoriously vivid character that has terrified the hearts and minds of the reading public for a century and a half! I know quite a lot about being a fictional character, but it would be truly wonderful to have the longevity of Mr. Sykes.
I assure you that, as a fictional character, I feel as deeply and intensely as any living human being. That is why the tale, which I am about to impart, is a highly emotional one for me and, as it turns out, has an ending which I should have seen coming.
Because it was Jamie Helmsworth’s decision to invite me for tea at the Savoy, I was somewhat suspicious. Jamie is actually a very clever, canny art dealer and so, I knew he had a very special request to make of me—one that he felt I might well decline.
As I entered the tea room, I spotted him seated alone in the far corner. He stood up and waved me over. His smile was genial. I felt guarded as his eyes darted about. We sat down.
“A very fine place for our meeting, Jamie,” I said, as I shook his hand. “What’s the occasion?”
His smile seemed fixed. “I thought you might enjoy it.” His manner was, shall I say—nervous. Before I could say more, the waitress arrived with the tea service and set out all the sandwiches and cakes and poured the tea.
Normally, Jamie, in matters of business, is very direct and clear. Although he is most sensitive to matters of taste in art, he wants no misunderstandings in business, when it comes to negotiations of terms. As we began our tea, he did everything he could to avoid coming to the point of our meeting. He asked lengthy questions about my latest painting and about our mutual friends.
At last, I set down my cup and said, “Listen Jamie, this is all very pleasant…” I waved my hand about to encompass the whole room. “But please—tell me what’s on your mind.” I could not have been more surprised by his answer.
He made much of folding his napkin and setting it in place. At last he said, “It’s about Rinaldo.”
“Good Lord, Rinaldo? What about him?”
“I’ve been asked by a prospective client to make him an offer for his latest work.”
“But you don’t represent Rinaldo! Why did this client come to you?”
“Nobody seems to know where Rinaldo is. But this prospective client seems to think you might be able to find him.”
“Me? Why me? Rinaldo despises me and my art. And his conceptual art work is completely beyond my comprehension.”
Sighing, Jamie closed his eyes for a long moment. “The client believes only you can find him.”
“Why me? Rinaldo wouldn’t cross the street to say hello to me.”
Jamie shook his head. “The prospective client thinks Rinaldo may be in Venice. In fact, he has a few leads. He wants you to go to Venice to find him. All your expenses would be paid, of course.”
I was astounded. It’s true Rinaldo and I go back a very long way. But our relationship was severely affected when I won the Turner Prize and—he did not.
My work is best described as representational art. That is, when you look at the canvas, you can see the nature of the subject matter. My entry for the award was called The Hay Wagon. His was a ditch built down the concourse of the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Bloodied implements of war were flung on either side of the ditch. So, you can see how we differ artistically speaking.
Shocked, I continued to stare at Jamie. “But what does this client think I can do that he cannot himself?”
Again Jamie sighed. “He’s convinced that, because you saved Rinaldo on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York that he will respond to you.”
I did not save Rinaldo—no one can. But that story is recounted in The Drawing Lesson. Shaking my head, I said, “I very much doubt that.”
James clasped my hand and said earnestly, “Please, Alex. All you have to do is fly to Venice for a couple of days—at the client’s expense—and follow up the leads. Look at it as a pleasant vacation.”
“Who is this client?”
I began to laugh.
“Marco Polo Design House of the USA. The owner, Mark Savanti lives in South Beach, Florida and he is ready to pay munificent sums of money.”
I said. “All right, Jamie. I’ll do it, but only as a favour to you.”
Greatly relieved, Jamie shook my hand heartily. We left the tea room.
“By the way,” I said out in the lobby. “What is the artwork in question?”
James shook his head. “Apparently, it’s five dishes of rotting fruit.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Yes and it is up to the purchaser to replenish the fruit. Apparently that act creates a bond between artist and viewer.”
“Given the nature of the art work, I’d better hurry.” Chuckling, I waved goodbye. What a strange man Rinaldo was!