Friday, November 12, 2010

How Would I Paint Thee?

(In which I picture painting.)


That afternoon, Géricault set his canvass on the easel. Such deceit and dissembling he would paint there, an encrypted narrative of illicit love. At Alexandrine’s feet, tethered on a gold lead, would sit a monkey dressed in a waistcoat embroidered with forget-me-nots and wearing a Moroccan hat, his tail plumed against her gown. Géricault was the monkey, gazing up with adoring eyes, yearning for freedom yet unable to leave his mistress’ side. What else in this picture would he pay tribute to their monstrous tryst? Long-stemmed roses arranged in a Venetian glass vase on a table; shortbread biscuits cut into the shape of a heart within reach of Alexandrine’s extended hand; yes, and in the background, for his mistress, he’d paint a corner of the divan beneath the open window . . . And would he dare give just a hint, just a shadow, of a white stocking draped over the back of a chair or flung in a moment of haste across a pillow?
– The God of Spring, p. 46
A couple of months (or so) ago, I posted a comment on a thread about what the cover a blogger might choose for his book if it is to be his life story. I said I would want mine (since everybody else posted what they want theirs to be like) to be a pair of paint-stained hands holding a silver flute with several gold keys. And not only once have I dreamed of doing a drawing of that. But I put that off in lieu of a portrait I can’t seem to finish for lack of time. The portrait was an attempt to reproduce a photograph. And just as my procrastination stretches on, I read a paragraph by Arabella Edge and started to wonder how I would compose an original portrait.

I wouldn’t want the portrait to be stiff. I wouldn’t want him standing like some nobleman proud of his expensive coats and heavy badges. Sitting perhaps. But not the way a schoolboy is expected to be doing the moment the teacher enters the room. No, I don’t want stiffness. I want personality in posture and expression. And there should be passion and mystery, too. Yes, passion and mystery. Like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Gustav Klimt’s Emile Flöge, or Géricault’s Alexandrine. Mine would be a passionate and mysterious male.

Perhaps I would want him sitting hunched, facing me. His elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped under his chin or held out. I would want his shirt off. Draperies would only look good on his pants. Or the bed on which he’s sitting. A couch with fluid fabric covers looks good, too. I would want him to look straight at me with an intent gaze, as if he’s studying me, or the way I would transfer his image on paper. Or perhaps he already knows and he’d show confidence and expectancy. But his eyes wouldn’t be hard. Instead, they would be two brown irises of soft and tender attention. Of faith. Yes, I want him to show faith. I wouldn’t want him to smile. But his lips shouldn’t be closed either. I want his expression to be serious, expectant, wondering, and his lips should suggest that he’s thinking of something to say. For the background I would like a marbled wall of burnt umber and sienna and their shades. And there should be a guitar standing upright against the bed (or the couch). The floor, I would want them cold and dark.

Oh, and in that portrait, I would want him to become a painter, for he paints. So his hands would be paint-stained too.