It’s such a rich colour, full of iron and platelets and life. We need it in our veins, in our hearts and brains, or it’s game over. When you think of all the symbolism, it makes sense to use it in my work. Portraits are, after all, a portrayal of life, committing something fleeting to something permanent. By using this as my paint, I infuse the canvas with life itself.
Mix it with water and you can get all kinds of lovely shades. I add aspirin to keep it from congealing on my brush, or to make a putty that I smear on with a small trowel when I want to add texture. It’s not dead like monochrome, but it leaves room for imagination in a way that full colour cannot. You get to decide whether his hair is brown or black. Are his eyes blue or green? As long as all the shapes and strokes are right, you can tell who it is or what they are thinking. You don’t need all those other details. They’re already in the paint.
He is going to make a fine subject. His long, black hair flops over his face so you can’t see his eyes. He laughs with friends in a way that makes me think of kestrels – he doesn’t screech like they do, it’s more that the sharp decline in pitch as he pulls out of the hoot reminds me of the sharp drop they make before they capture their prey. I wonder how I will integrate that sound into my painting. It seems so intrinsic to his personality that I feel a need to incorporate it somehow. Perhaps I will perch a bird of prey on his shoulder, wrapped in his dark locks.
I watch him as he leaves the bar. He stumbles on the step, despite the fact that he spends enough time here to know full well that it’s there, and it’s always been there. I can tell that he’s had quite a lot to drink. That should make painting him easier. Alcohol thins the blood remarkably well. I may not even have to knock him out.
But I do, just in case. I am so thankful that I live in a ground floor apartment, and so close to such a wonderful bar, full of beautiful people, coming and going at all hours of the night. It makes it so much easier to bring home supplies and subjects. The fact that it all comes in the one package helps too, I guess.
I work quickly, and he is drained by morning. But by god, the final product is incredible. When I was studying, my teachers told me that my style was unoriginal and lacked life; my technique was stale and my work would need something to stand out from the crowd. I guess I found it, huh.
Eventually the canvas starts to smell, so I have to throw them all away. Again, there is symmetry in this. I could seal them and keep that stale smell in, but instead I discard them like others have discarded me. The same way they discarded my talent and my originality.
Fuelled by the glee I take in proving them wrong, I have become hooked on this new, exciting artistic endeavour. I could have a harem on my walls, every colour, creed and gender represented, all with a limited lifespan, as they were when my supplies were flowing through them. They are short-lived, but they shine bright, and only for me.