Tell Me a Story

“Tell me a story” is the theme of an exhibit to be presented by a gallery in southern California. The idea is for the artist to write a 100-word (or fewer) story to go with the submitted painting. I was intrigued, and immediately thought of the painting above, which I titled “Totem”. You may or may not remember that I painted it last summer, on the coast of Rhode Island. (Visit that blog here.) In that rocky cove, there were many cairns arranged, but none so artfully as the one in the painting. No one knew who made the cairns, or what their purpose was. The cove was private property and practically inaccessible. However, on more than one occasion, a kayaker had been observed paddling past the cove, and I conceived the theory that when the cove was deserted, he paddled in and built cairns just for the mystery of it. For the story competition, though, I wanted more pathos. I imagined a lonely child distracting himself with building cairns as high as possible, but failing. The kayaker observes, empathizes. The child stops coming. The kayaker learns that the child has died. The kayaker builds the perfect, elegant cairn in memoriam.

I considered my chances of being selected for the California exhibit to be next to nil, but on the other hand, I could bring some writing skills to the project, which might give me an edge over right-brain specialists. I spent weeks working on my “story”–it had to be poignant, mysterious, poetic, and 100 words or less. Do you know how few words 100 is? I despaired. I let the normal deadline pass. But at the very last minute of the extended deadline (you pay higher entry fee), I reconsidered, and pulled together something with exactly 100 words, but lacking in content. The child’s death, and the kayaker’s involvement, is barely implied:

Rocky beach, isolated surf-scoured cove — nearly impossible to access by land. By sea, a kayaker paddles past.

One summer, a child is seen there every day, working, playing in the rocks. Day after day, he piles stones into elegant towers that tumble before the overpowering winds and waves.

Then he stopped coming.

Yet one day there arose a stack of three stones on a boulder, so perfectly fitted that they settled into their base as if grown there, oblivious of wind and waves, an anonymous tribute to fugacious striving, a totem to the beauty of a child and nature.

My use of the word “fugacious” probably sealed its doom, but I couldn’t resist.

But here’s the really funny part of THIS story. I submitted another painting at that last minute because a friend had recently admired it, and I could submit two paintings for the same entry fee. Here is the second painting:

Cat Contemplating Winter, 12×36. (“Casey” for short)

And Remember how poetic I wanted to be? Here is the cat story that I whipped out in two minutes:

Casey the cat was an outdoor cat. He liked to play in the grass and the flowers. He liked to play in the leaves. He does not like to play in the snow, or the wet, recently plowed streets. What to do?

Of course you already have guessed the end of THIS story. Casey got in the exhibit and Totem did not. Now I have to pack him up and ship him to Monrovia California (Segil Fine Art Gallery, if you are going to be in the neighborhood), and OMG, what if he sells? I am going to get a professional photograph taken of him for the purpose of making giclee prints, just in case.

This is the third honor for this particular painting: it won second best in one of the Manchester Artist Association Gallery shows, and it was reproduced in the Winter issue of NH Bar Journal in January. (They requested a snow painting for the cover (chose one of Franconia Notch), but couldn’t resist adding Casey at the bottom of the Contents page.)

Casey himself has abandoned us and adopted another home in the neighborhood with more cats and no dogs. He visits, but does not come inside anymore. Our feelings are hurt, which is why I put a price on his painting.

Anyway, the moral of this whole experience: keep it simple, stupid!

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