The Drawing Lesson, the first in The Trilogy of Remembrance. Lines are drawn and the battle begins at The Tate Modern. Enjoy a chapter and get your copy of the novel here. #novels about artists #literary suspense.
LONDON Chapter 1
The Drawing Lesson. At the Tate Modern Gallery, women swirling about in their elegant cocktail dresses and men in their tails, congregated before Alexander’s most recent painting the Hay Wagon. Each one of them was arrested by his vision.
A huge moon hung low in the sky illuminating the scene with an unearthly glow. A hay wagon stood before a barn door, which hung on its hinges. Beyond that, an old horse shambled about in the meadow.
“Look at the way the light shimmers,” whispered one woman, pointing upward with her face aglow. “It’s like seeing the beyond.”
“It almost seems alive and pulsing with life,” breathed another. Other guests were silenced, unable to articulate the complexity of emotion, which Alexander’s painting evoked.
Along with the luminaries of the art world my wife, Renee, and I had gathered to raise a glass to the five finalists for the Turner Prize in contemporary art. The high glass ceilings of the immense Turbine room had darkened in the twilight and the flickering lights along the riverbank, created a dream-like, festive atmosphere.
Renee tugged on my sleeve. “Don’t you think there’s something quite odd about Alex’s painting?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look! There’s the faintest shadow just to the left of the wagon and there’s another one near the barn door.”
I peered closely at the painting. “Yes, I do see what you mean. Strange! They look like shadows cast by very oddly shaped—almost stunted—people, but there’s no one in sight.” Puzzled, I shrugged and stepped back.
From across the rotunda, I heard someone calling out my name. Geoffrey Yorkton, holding two champagne glasses aloft, shouldered his way from the bar and descended upon me.
“James!” he nearly shouted in my ear. “ArtNews just hit the stands. Alex’s Hay Wagon is on the cover.”
Geoffrey was the editor-in-chief of that glossy art magazine.
“Yes. I’ve seen it and read the article. Why was the interviewer so hostile?”
Yorkton’s eyebrows shot up. “You do know Maxwell’s a conceptual art man. He’s pulling for Rinaldo.”
“Then why have him do the interview?”
Yorkton grinned. “Controversy always sells magazines, Jamie. That’s my job!” He patted my arm and winked. “Besides, the buzz is good for Alex.” Then drawing me aside, he spoke more seriously. “I know Alex is the front-runner, but if he gets too cocksure, the committee won’t like it. And the entire conceptual art crowd is furious that he’s even in the running for their prize.”
“Why? The prize is for contemporary—not conceptual art. ”
Yorkton just winked and was off into the crowd. Briefly, I glanced heavenward and went to find Alex.
At the door, the crowd began to part and murmurs rippled through the gallery. There stood Alex, tall and handsome in formal attire, thoughtfully caressing his neat goatee. Sauntering in, he stood in the centre of the room. Within a moment, someone presented him with a glass of champagne and people gathered around.
From behind, a hand fluttered on Alex’s shoulder. He turned to see the scarred, pinched face of Rinaldo gleaming up at him.
Strangely, Rinaldo never seemed to blink and his laser-like gaze sought to pin Alex, his latest victim, like a butterfly under glass.
Alexander set his champagne down on a passing tray.
“Ah! There you are Rinaldo!” Alex held out his hand, which the little man ignored.
Waiters lit tall candles in the corners of the room. Light danced upon the fluted columns and made the stone floor gleam, giving the room the appearance of an ancient, mediaeval castle.
Smirking, Rinaldo stuffed his fists into his crimson cummerbund and bowed deeply to the smattering of dignitaries now drifting closer. “I am honoured to be shortlisted with an artist of such renown. But Alex, haven’t you thought of expanding your work beyond the representation of bucolic scenes?”
Alexander frowned and then turned away.
Grasping Alex’s sleeve, Rinaldo continued in lilting tones, “It must be a heavy burden for one artist.” He shook his head and sighed deeply. “To maintain such certainty of vision in a world of constant change.” Then his eyes glittered with mirth. “Perhaps we should collaborate someday!”
A few nervous titters arose from the group now congregating about them.
Wainwright swung around. “Your art installation greatly intrigues me. The ditch or trench—whatever you call it—in the main hall perfectly captures the state of art in the present day.”
The little man twirled his moustache between his fingers. “And what state is that, sir?”
Alexander was referring to the bulging, heaving crack constructed by Rinaldo and laid over-top the length of the Turbine Room floor. A barbed wire fence ran down the centre of his creation with implements of war heaped on either side.
Alexander retrieved another glass of champagne from a waiter. “You’ve outdone yourself, this time, Rinaldo.” Struggling to suppress a small smile, he continued, “Your work fairly teams with complex, intellectual concepts.”
“I must say your painting is very pretty.”
Anger flashed in Alex’s eyes. He snorted. “It is a sincere effort to create the warmth of the human spirit. Agreed, it is not clever enough for your cerebral contortions.”
By now, most of the committee had gathered about. The chairman, Gus Grosvenor, sought to intervene. “Gentleman, please, lively controversy about art is wonderful, but this is a party. Please…”
Neither artist paid the man any heed.
Like a cat upon a mouse, Rinaldo pounced. “Your art was revolutionary two centuries ago. But how is it relevant today? We see an old cart, some bales of hay and a dilapidated barn in the background. In a distant field, we see an old broken-down horse.” He nibbled his lip reflectively then gave a dismissive wave. “Does such a scene even exist in this twenty-first century— anywhere on this earth— except in the sentimental, bourgeois imagination?”
Alone, Alexander leaned against a wall and stared at the Hay Wagon. I witnessed a fleeting expression on his face, which I had never seen before. He was not in retreat, but his pale blue eyes seemed to contain certain hesitancy—even doubt— the depth of which I could not judge. I frowned, wondering if I had seen the tiniest splintering in the façade of a great artist.
With a fawning smile, Rinaldo turned to a young, female docent and said, “Tell me, my dear, what do you see?”
The docent, who was very pretty herself said, “It has a certain quality, sir, rarely seen in landscapes. It has the numinous light suffusing it, as if God were everywhere in the landscape and the world.”
“That’s it exactly!” someone in the crowd said. Others murmured their agreement.
Rinaldo’s lip curled. “God or just a trick of light, young lady?”
Gus Grosvenor stepped forward and, drawing Rinaldo aside, whispered in his ear. “This is a social event to be enjoyed by all. The committee frowns on such grandstanding. The final vote is this Tuesday.” He glanced significantly at the little man. “I’m sure you get my drift, sir.”
The artist clicked his heels together sharply and bowed. “Certainly, my good man! The last thing we want is controversy at a party.”
Wainwright’s voice boomed from the far side of the rotunda. “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go back to the main hall and view my friend’s work. I’m sure he’d like to explain it to us.” Without waiting, he sauntered back to the Turbine Room. He turned to face the group.
As a conceptual artist, Rinaldo was fond of creating installations. The guests gazed upon his work entitled The Destiny of War. On both sides of this trench, with its barbwire fence, were flung piles old clothing, children’s toys—guns, model tanks, knives and swords—all spattered with red paint. No doubt, he intended to create the effect of a blood bath. I found one dismembered doll to be a particularly tasteless touch. In my opinion, the message of this so-called piece of conceptual art was both obvious and trite. But then I, as a dealer in representational painting, had to admit my bias.
Alexander began. “We know that conceptual art is not judged by the usual aesthetic values. Beauty is but an offensive, bourgeois conceit. Only the originality and validity of the concept itself is significant.” Smiling benignly, he turned to Rinaldo. “Sir? Is it fair to say your concept is—that hatred divides our world and results in war, death and devastation?”
The gathering fell silent as Rinaldo squeezed to the front. “Yes, that is fair comment, although very limited in scope.”
“What else does it say?”
“Unless we change our fundamental attitudes, we are on a hellish course of self- destruction.” Rinaldo had difficulty keeping a defensive tone from his voice. “This is a revolutionary concept…”
“By its very nature, mankind is doomed to destroy.”
“Ah! So there is no hope. How have you conveyed that? Might we not conclude we can mend our ways because that ability is also part of human nature?”
Grinning, Rinaldo glanced about nervously. “That is the whole point of conceptual art—to stir debate, controversy, different points of view.”
Wainwright strolled the whole length of Rinaldo’s trench, pausing occasionally to examine a doll or a gun. The room was silent until he returned.
“Ladies and gentleman, if conceptual art places the idea first and foremost, let us judge such a work in its own terms. Is Rinaldo’s idea original, novel, controversial or at least interesting? Who does not know that hatred is part of human nature and leads to the most destructive forms of warfare? Where is the new idea?” The artist bowed deeply and concluded, “Rinaldo should enlighten us. Why is his concept original or thought provoking?” With a flourish of his arm, he stepped aside. “I give my friend the floor.”
Rinaldo, now the palest white, hung back for only a moment. “My friend, the great Wainwright, speaks from centuries back.” The little man’s face twisted into a cartoon of fury. “He fails to see that the world has changed beyond his understanding and he clings to his old verities. Caught in his time warp, he can only paint bucolic scenes from centuries back.”
Wainwright relaxed against a fluted column. “Ladies and gentlemen!” His softly whispered voice rebounded eerily in the great hall. “Rinaldo has not answered my question.”
No one had ever seen Rinaldo at a loss for words. He spun on his heel. With a slight, hitching gait, he marched as rapidly as possible toward the main entrance. Glancing behind only once, he fled through the spinning doors. For a long moment, the group was silent. Then gentle murmurs and occasional soft chuckle filled the hall as everyone drifted back to the bar.
I approached Alex and said, “You certainly won that round, old man.”
Wainwright looked at me oddly. “You never win with Rinaldo, Jamie. And he does have some interesting points.”
Anxiety and confusion spread over Alex’s face. He stared into my eyes and whispered, “What if he is right that my art is dead?” Then his shoulders slumped and he muttered, “This is just the beginning. He and I shall never be done.” Then he brightened for a moment. “By the way, did you see Peter Cummings here tonight?”
I shook my head. “I think he’s out of town, Alex.”
Alexander sighed heavily.
“Did you reach Hugh Robinson?” I asked.
He frowned, as if trying to recollect.
“Oh yes. I see him next week.”
I said goodnight and stepped outside the main doors. On the opposite side of the Thames, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, gloriously lit against the night sky, rose up in an incredible celebration of harmony and beauty. I smiled. What would its architect, Christopher Wren, labouring in the eighteenth century make of the irreparable division in the art world today?
Chapter 2 will be posted this Saturday, January 16th. Enjoy!
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in its entirety right here Wattpad.com