by Ron Van Sweringen
Pigment swirled violently on the large canvas. Scarlet ribbons intertwined with others of white and black squirmed over each other like writhing snakes. Thurman Peters stared at the painting. His eyes burned from strain and his right hand trembled.
What was this thing he had created? There was no name for it, that much he knew. It possessed no classical merit, no shimmering light of Impressionism; it even seemed to defy the label of abstract art. A slight shiver trickled over him in the cold room.
Snow piled up on the window ledge, icing itself to the glass. A steel-grey city in muted tones of grime stretched beyond the window. Cold and tiresome, the city had never been warm to Thurman. Even in the heat of summer the doors to its art dealers and galleries remained closed to him. All except one; a small gallery on 6th Avenue.
The shabby exterior of the Witherspoon Gallery matched most of the other businesses in the neighborhood. It was a far cry from 19th Avenue and the upscale shops and galleries along the tree-shaded sidewalks. When Thurman first saw them, fresh from a small town in Indiana, his head swam with excitement. This is where you belong, his heart thundered in his young body. Soon they will all know.
That was three years ago. Long, hard years of struggling to paint, eat and stay alive. Thurman told himself each new year would be the one that brought him recognition, fame and wealth.
* * *
Gardner Witherspoon was clever; at least he considered himself so. His grey handlebar moustache said it all. Above a starched white collar and blue and red striped bow tie, his plump cheeks glowed. The fact that he had borrowed the moustache from Salvador Dali was of little importance. As far as he was concerned it was much better suited to him. The waxed points were so perfectly done they resembled the tusks of a wild boar.
Witherspoon was an excellent salesman, and he ate and slept art. The success of his small gallery depended on these qualities along with a generous amount of tenacity. Both came into play one October day when a tall young man appeared in his shop doorway. His hair was streaked blond, and the finely shaped features of his face bespoke a Nordic heritage.
“May I help you?” Witherspoon asked, acutely aware of the young man’s good looks.
“Yes, sir,” was the softly spoken reply, “I hope so.”
Witherspoon had sized up the situation instantly. Another starving young artist trying to sell his work.
“I have some paintings I would like to show you. Perhaps you can give me your opinion of them,” Thurman continued.
Witherspoon gave a sigh. Well, at least this one has class, he thought. Most of them just say, ‘I’ve got something to sell’. Most of the work offered to him was either amateurish or worse yet, professionally bad. Paintings that simply had no soul.
Two canvases in brown paper wrapping appeared from under the young man’s arm. The paintings were not what Witherspoon expected, not at all.
“What are the titles of your paintings?” Witherspoon asked.
“I haven’t thought about titles,” Thurman replied, caught off guard by the question.
“Well, you should think about it,” was the somewhat sarcastic reply. “A good title can often sell an undecided customer on your work.”
“Do you think they are good then?” Thurman sputtered, looking Witherspoon in the eyes to gage the truthfulness of his answer.
“Good, possibly; different, definitely.”
The look of disappointment that raced across Thurman’s face was impossible to miss. It was as if the life had suddenly been kicked out of him.
“Don’t disintegrate in front of me,” Witherspoon chided. “Sometimes ‘different’ can be a very valuable thing, if handled in the proper fashion.”
“You mean you will represent me?” Thurman gasped, his hand pressed on Witherspoon’s shoulder.
“Possibly, if you go in the back room and take your pants off. Don’t look so surprised,” Witherspoon smiled. “Surely you could figure this one out. Do we have a deal?”
* * *
A week after Thurman’s visit to the Witherspoon Gallery, a note was sticking out of his mail box one morning. It was brief and to the point. “Have good news. Come and see me and for crap sakes, get a telephone.”
Thurman’s heart raced as he ran up the three flights to his studio. For some reason the dingy space looked almost beautiful. Sunlight found its way through the soot-stained skylight. Maybe it was his imagination but even his latest painting seemed to have a glow about it.
His clothes hit the bathroom floor in a heap and he snapped the last clean towel off of the shower rod. Thurman wanted a bath badly and he prayed for hot water when he turned the faucet on.
Witherspoon made only one remark on Thurman’s first visit to the back room of his gallery. “The next time you come to see me, take a bath first.” Thurman was reminded of the remark every time he saw the American flag painted on his big toe nail.
* * *
“What do you think of them?” the woman asked, looking at the two paintings before her. “Are they as good as I think they are?”
“The truth is they are probably better than you think they are. Where did you get them?”
“I bought them yesterday at Witherspoon’s gallery. They were in the window and stopped me in my tracks. They weren’t cheap. I paid that odd little man $2,500 each, but I felt they belonged in my collection.”
“There is cheap and then there is cheap,” the man standing beside her replied. “With proper representation in my gallery, I would price them at no less than $6,000 each. The question is, who is this T. Peters and how did Witherspoon find him?”
Witherspoon had a wide smile on his face when Thurman arrived at his gallery. “Wonderful news,” he bubbled, his cheeks even pinker than usual. “I have sold both of the paintings you left for one thousand dollars each.” Then with a flourish, his pudgy hands threw 10 one hundred dollar bills into the air over Thurman’s head. “Fifty, fifty,” he giggled, “here is your thousand dollars!”
Thurman watched the hundred-dollar bills float down around him. “At last,” he whispered with tears in his eyes.
The trip to Witherspoon’s back room was much less traumatic the second time around. Thurman held one thousand dollars in his hand and what the hell difference did it make if Witherspoon got his rocks off by painting American flags on his toenails. He was going to be rich and famous.
Copyright © 2013 by Ron Van Sweringen