Friday, April the 25th, 1941
Even a brick is not just a brick. Gauthier returned to his KLV painting, having stepped back to take in the whole effect. He already deemed the representation successful, if less than perfect. The chunk of brick he took from the bunker's wall, the only material which could validate that terrible night while the English dropped their bombs; he had grounded and mixed in muted ochre and painted its representation onto the finished canvas. As he glided his finger over the composite, the course grains of the brick evoked in him the chaos, the sobbing, and the barking orders of that vivid night. He even felt the desire to blend with the wall once more, as he had that night –
Non, ce ne est pas tout à fait vrai. I feel only the justification of doing so. He could not give in to such a desire now. Not while his mother grew thin and weak in a prison cell. If anything, he could honestly regard the bunker’s wall simulation in his composite a success.
Last Tuesday, while waiting for his instructor and classmates to show up in the workshop at University, Gauthier hammered down the brick from the KLV bunker into fragments, and then hid all the sharp, jagged pieces into his pocket. It matters not what a brick is made of, but where it was laid. He thought to hammer them down further, but then the instructor had arrived. And what it meant at the time it was extracted. Most of the fragments were too large to mount with paint medium. Wax would work, but he’d rather not use wax. This was the most frustrating part of his new composite-styled Orphisms. Unlike collages that could use pins, nails, and even string to hold in place the materials of choice, such means left collages looking dirty, as Gauthier called it. He was always in search for better ways to refine his composites away from collage.
“No, you are wrong.” He remembered declaring to his colleagues from L'École des arts Seine-Montparnasse as they drank their wine in the makeshift porch behind Café Etouperie. One of his colleagues, the typically quiet art historian student Denis Blanc, had just described Gauthier’s new art style as ‘understated collage’.
“You are quite wrong, Denis. I do not create such clumsy, dirty art that is collage. I am surprised that you would think so.”
But exactly what was the difference, the classical sculptor student Emmott Tollmache seized, leaning into the table, his eyes deeply set in his cavernous sockets and in perpetual shadow. “And please refrain from referencing the Masters as if they are tangible on any level or sitting on your shoulder. They are the only enthusiasts of your art as of late.” His request was qualified with laughter and, apparently, with full backing from around the table.
“Well,” Gauthier searched the caverns for any kind of flesh, “one could not set a wine glass on top of any of my composites like one could those obtuse, jumbled things…or the head of Pope Gregory.”
A low blow to be sure, but well deserved. Tollmache was always acerbic around modern art. And his bust of the pope was dull and parching, like a sponge made of rock sapping the life from the poor observer’s eyes – like it obviously had done to him.
I do not create dirty art. Whatever tactic material Gauthier used-- whether it was paint medium, glue, or sewing thread; Gauthier would discard the entire concept if he could not hide how the represented material was to be adhered to the canvas or took on any hint of a collage effect. In the weeks before leaving Paris, Gauthier experimented with wax. It worked in mounting heavier objects, but the lift away from the canvas was…disturbing. No wax would be used in his art if he could help it. No material with too much dimension would be considered. Anticipating this outcome is what led him to enterré en mer the heavy flak piece he took from the KLV.
It is also what led him to the kitchen after returning from class in the afternoon and to take a tin and smash the brick pieces down even further on the counter. Of course, the annoyed tenant next door banged on the wall with a fist or with something heavy – and so obnoxiously, that Gauthier startled and stared at the wall, imagined seeing plaster blasted off. His refining down the rock was not loud enough to have elicited such a response. The tenant was over-reacting, and rudely so! Regardless, Gauthier was pleased that he did not pulverize the brick. Perhaps the tenant did him a favor. The fragments needed to have some dimension. Gauthier wanted them to be evident within the ochre paint, giving it the necessary granularity. He barely had enough to cover his draft lines. He had just enough to recognize the brick was in the paint…even if an observer must be informed of it.
And that was the next subject that fueled the heated discussion with his friends around the dingy, crate table: the necessity for Gauthier to describe the context of his composite art. Or, as David’s then boyfriend and bona fide snob Heitor Rosario described with usual sarcastic air, to “…Aid the viewer of what is being viewed although the chaos.” What was the purpose of his art, he asked, if it needed a notecard below it to explain the meaning and, as David-- carelessly! --added on, “…Like a requirement to educate the viewer where to look, what to think, and what to take away? Please see above: Naked man; in marble; Antagonist to Goliath; perfection through perspective; excellence in masculinity.”
“And masturbatory enlightenment.” Rosario added and then quickly granted obnoxious mirth; his perfect, pouty lips never cracking beyond a thin, black line; his face, so handsome, so evenly brown, so flawless as to warrant Gauthier’s urge to smash it into a trillion perfect pieces! The whole discussion and the…interrogation! by supposed colleagues infuriated Gauthier to no end.
“Écoutez-moi!” Gauthier had demanded, his voice rising higher than ever before, and his eyes falling on poor Denis Blanc (for he was too hurt to look at his friend David). “All art requires context!” And some nudging, as he regrettably put it: a simple direction in subject or meaning that the artist hoped to portray and transcend. His was no exception!
“I see.” David responded coolly. “So the subject of art is now rendered to ‘The Nudge’. Thank you, Gauthier. You may now shut down our school and open up a Nudge repository. As if Paris needs another museum of…things.”
Why did they not understand? Not all art is so manifest, Gauthier replied. Not all art is obvious! “I do Peintures à l'huile composites, through an Orphism eye. Every space has its own music or purpose or color or vibration, and I try to capture a material of that moment – that is all; nothing strange –a material from that scene – so as to interpret the truth no matter the prejudices targeting the subject. If I need to describe my composites, then so be it. Sorry if my subjects are not as obvious as a Monet; very sorry for that my friends.” His colleagues then moaned in exaggerated reprise at the mention of a Master. “Qui. But, even Monet must have meaning, even if it is only ‘autumn’ for the color ‘yellow’ or ‘tranquility’ for the lily pad! If art is created without meaning or without a purpose, then it is no longer art; it is just––”
“––Dadaist.” David finished. “And, perhaps, a place to set my wine glass.” Exactly! And Gauthier smacked his hands on the table, but his friends only laughed harder as his supposed best friend sat his wine glass on top of Gauthier’s head. Enough! He declared and heaved his body up from his chair and surfaced from their cigarette smolder and left the fools laughing in the wake.
Gauthier dragged his finger along the grains of brick for a second time. He expected to be carried back to Hamburg, to the bombing raid, and the firing of the flak guns. He only partially realized its failure to evoke like it had moments ago. Instead, he recollected when, later on that night in the dorm, his Judas friend David insisted his colleagues were not laughing at him.
“We believe in you, Darling.” David smoothed back Gauthier’s blond hair and kissed Gauthier’s exposed forehead; his breath still fruity from dispirited wine. “We love you and we love your art.” He pinched Gauthier’s ears and gently tugged them. He then took a half step back, and, squeezing Gauthier’s shoulders, seemed to take in Gauthier’s frigid expression; smiled generously as if to break the ice. “My Dear, you must allow us the freedom to discuss art openly. You are quite inexplicable. You change your schemes so often that we need to start taking notes…only to then throw them away and take new notes. We love you no matter, even if this…composite skill you have developed is just another spectacular, if provisional, whim.”
My composites are no whim. Gauthier remembered how he felt that day; feeling the same tightening in his gut as he had that night. No whim. The style stuck to him, unlike the other styles, and he came to realize this particular style was the only medium for his art that very night he was sealed inside the bunker’s bomb shelter. His composites would represent a truth. They would be factual. The oils would set mood and presence. The tangible materials from that moment in time would validate authenticity. His art would be literal, beyond the propaganda of the Nazis; of any government. There will be more truth in one of my composites than all the newspapers and newsreels of Germany and Occupied France, combined.
He was determined to make this happen. He was determined to master his new art and to include, in every composite, a material of that moment he would so carefully consider, sketch, paint, then construct. And he would include the Moon in his war series, for it will have always been present no matter how many days of the Thousand Year Reich actually persisted. The Moon would be present in every composite, for the Moon was omnipotent! Full. Crescent. New. It will not matter. Scene, oil, material, and Luna. He will record time in a whole new way. He will recreate – Non; I will restore – a passage from a moment in time; many moments in time! Scenes not for the eye to gaze or be tapped of their life, but for the soul to wander in a captured dimension of truth. Validation: The Moon, a signature of the omnipotent truth.
Gauthier held up his composite and reviewed it. He wanted to admire it. He studied the moon he had painted in the upper right corner. It was nearly full and immensely bright like it was that night of the raid. Yet, not perfectly so. This moon was not a perfect representation, he abruptly noticed. He held the painting out from him and tilted it slightly to the side. Having finished the KLV composite early in the night as he returned from University, Gauthier was happy with his work then but knew it needed a bit more. He would have worked on it well into the early morning hours had Bannführer Steinach not crossly ordered him to bed with that tiresome threat that the blockwort “will kick in the damn door and toss us out because of that light!” The light came from the bulb in the closet and was practically diluted to candlelight by the time it reached Gauthier’s canvas. Impossible to have been seen through the blackout screen. Idiot. The Bannführer was a far away from art as he was in admitting his true nature.
Ah. This moon is truly disappointing. Gauthier had no choice but to admit this. The Moon was to take on a more realist role of permanence, of nature. Instead, his rendering was more like a swelling white orb and, sadly, too faux in its radiance for anything natural. Perhaps, if observed from under water... The perspective was fine, but the Moon… Terrible! He tried to render it relative in size as he remembered seeing it through the ice-formed gap in the blackout screen; transitioned it beautifully with the bunker scene in the background and the yellow bulb that never gave out, and, of course, where his soul soaked into the brick wall.
“Terrible.” He whispered as he stared at the progressively ghastly orb. The Moon that night was a searing spotlight that hurt the eyes if stared at directly. This Moon does no such thing. This rendering only bled over the eyes. He must perfect it.
Later. Gauthier was getting bored of the KLV composite and tired of rehearsing that frightful night. He opened the closet door and yanked the light switch. He pushed aside the hanging casuals and blue uniforms and leaned the composite against the back wall. Frankly, it belonged in the closet. Does not yet seduce. He pulled out another stretched canvas smaller than the KLV, fitting much more comfortably in his hands. It was already covered with sketches: half-drawn shop windows, flags molesting each other and hanging in the air, ghostlike, without their posts: two swastika flags and the Rising Sun of a lone Japanese flag. Across the canvas were drawn three rows of triangles, offset by forty five degree angles, appearing to march off the edge. Gauthier smiled as he looked it over, for he was itching to return to his newest composite, Le March. He sat it on the table and then looked at the clock to verify, if not to relish. Bannführer Steinach was not to arrive for another three hours! Gauthier scrambled to open his paint sachet, poured his supplies out in a heap. He opened the lower drawer of his dresser and, under his folded undershirts, pulled out the Potsdam Platz tower postcard with the single boot print across it. He flattened the corners between his fingers. He took a pair of scissors from his desk drawer and some wood glue that he stole from the workshop at University. He laid everything out around the canvas, grinned widely as he took it all in as if the display was art within itself.
That miserable day. Le March. Nazis supporters wearing their finest suits, their prettiest dresses. They re-invented their essence, those Berliners because of various reasons. One was fear. I see through their essential bullshit. Their Hitler flowers rot, and their hungry bellies wait in lines, their blood-red fingers clutch sweat-drenched ration cards. Smile! Let the propaganda minister take your picture under our street-lined Nazi flags! This postcard he would use; it would represent a typical Berlin scene – Potsdamer Platz. Oh, how pleasantly tangible! Unlike Tollmache’s medieval pope.
“My Dear, I have been thinking.” His friend David supplicated from his bed above Gauthier’s in the final hour of that night. “While you can take on tonal scandals like no other, you are an even finer draftsman. The best I know. Better than me.” Gauthier remembered gritting his teeth, only for a split second, at David’s ‘kind’ words. He remembered staring up at the springs of David’s bed and then turning away and glaring at David’s shadow on the wall opposite the beds. “Gauthier? Are you awake?”
Gauthier answered the shadow. “Yes. You have implied as much before.”
“It is not an implication, my peculiar friend. It is an inspiring observation. What you do is magical. You make two-dimensional dead things come to life.” Gauthier then watched the shadow of David’s arm rest on his shadow head. He watched David’s small shadow chin rise up as his shadow head sunk deeper into the pillow. “Maybe that is what your composites really accomplish: dimensions. And the oil and the chosen materials are only embellishments… Really, they are needless clothes that only hide the lovely nakedness of your shapes.”
Gauthier rolled his eyes. “We all are guilty of embellishments.” Though he had no one particularly in mind with his accusation.
The shadow then sighed; a long, weary sigh as if weighted by years of toil. “My Darling Gauthier. I love you with all of my heart, therefore I am faithful in my support. I only wish to posit an honest analysis that drafting is your true gift.” The shadow said nothing more that night. Fine with Gauthier.
No, David. Gauthier heard a door creaking open from the hallway. The gift is this shoeprint. He belatedly looked at his own door to be sure of what he heard. Could it be the rude occupant next door? Finally stepping out of his room? Gauthier acted quickly on a sudden urge to go out and see this man, once and for all, who so obnoxiously arbitrated his and the Bannführer’s every sudden move. With postcard in hand, he hurriedly unlocked his door and yanked out the chain in a noisy scramble and stuck his head out, nearly burying his head into the Bannführer’s chest!
“Gauthier! It is only me.” Gauthier backed up and stared up at the man, unsure of who he was. “You do not have to be so frightened.” The Bannführer gently led Gauthier back into the room, his knuckles gently laid on Gauthier’s chest. “My meeting was cancelled.” He half-turned to lock the door, paused, and then glanced back as if allowing Gauthier to respond. Gauthier could not. The Bannführer then peeled off his overcoat and stepped around Gauthier, laid the coat on his bed. He glanced at Gauthier again who still stood speechless in the entry. “You are safe here, you know. As long as you keep to yourself.”
Gauthier nodded. The Bannführer then nodded, too. As if he were conducting a parental lesson, the Bannführer added, “I heard the chain come off. I am happy you remembered to use it this time.” The Bannführer studied the table with all of Gauthier’s art cache spread over it. He said nothing, turned, and went straight to the bathroom.
Instinctively, Gauthier put his art supplies away and re-hid the postcard at the bottom of his dresser, angry that his three hour painting spree was now ruined. He heard the Bannführer blow his nose and then flush the toilet.
Yes, Gauthier could taste the scent of perfume; a scent that was gentle, a bit powdery, and definitely feminine. He could not put a name on it, though the perfume smelled familiar. He turned to look at the Bannführer’s overcoat. He stepped towards it warily and stopped at the foot of the bed. The Bannführer started the bath; the squeal of the faucets and gushing water were muffled as if on the side of another dimension. Gauthier bent over the coat and scanned it with his nose; his eyes buried in blue threading, black buttons, and the ugliest of all symbols. He discovered the perfume’s source around the right sleeve cuff.
To Mme Brendel
I am distraught to learn of the six week delay in court proceedings for this kind of case we have been unfairly asked to bear. Six weeks? Is this what you are hearing? I am afraid we are looking at an early summer court proceeding. I am only aware of news that O- can sift from the varied levels of communication among the overworked Belgium authorities. O- must be careful how he gets his information, of course. Please do not lose faith. We will do whatever is necessary to free you.
My composites – I have refined my style to near perfection, for I can better interpret the world around me than I have ever been able to do before. I always think of our friend D- when I pick up a paintbrush. In regards to him, I have not tried to contact him since beginning of March. I pray my letters reached him. I am not worried for him. I know D- is doing well, for we have our connection in spirit. We are brothers, as you well know. My heart tells me that he is fine.
I love this novel. I can't wait to read it in its entirety.ReplyDelete
Yeah. Me, too!ReplyDelete
To those who have read this post, I have an apology. While my WWII story is still, as I have shared, a work in progress, I uploaded an even more imperfect draft of this chapter in error. I have now uploaded the 'least imperfect' draft -with even more real time corrections-- from my layers of drafts, so please enjoy without the bumps. By the way, I often correct my posts in the days after I publish...which is odd and unprofessional, I know. But errors seem to surface belatedly when the publish button is pushed, and I hate to leave it as is. So, again, thank you for your interest and for your patience.ReplyDelete