I thought about taking up Art once. Before I met Margery. Before I went into investment banking. Something I picked up in the military during the war. Not a real war. More of a military intervention. The Mongolian Intervention we called it. The gas fields of Northern Mongolian. We were liberating the gas lines there. We did liberate them. Very successfully. Exxon stock went up 15 points. Wall Street gave us a parade.
A bit of art can be a great solace to the human spirit. Especially alone, in a drafty barracks, in a strange land at thirty below, somewhere north and west of the Yangtze. Nothing that unusual, actually. It was quite big back then. Painting-by-Number. That’s where the pattern of what you are to paint, the picture, is already printed on the canvas in very faint blue lines, with dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of little blue numbers inside of them. And you begin to paint. Filling in each little numbered space with the correspondingly numbered pigment. It’s quite systematic. For an art.
I did a very handsome Spaniel I recall, and then a Golden Retriever, 12 by 14, but my favorite was the Old Masterpieces Series, “Recreate the Experience of the Old Masters in Your Own Home,” it said on the box. I did a rather nice BLUE BOY, that’s Gainsborough; a very good MONA LISA, and a passable Van Gogh, because with Van Gogh, for some reasons, I kept slipping outside the lines. There were sunflowers. A big vase of sunflowers. I used up two entire tubes of Cadmium Yellow #17 on that one. Oh, those sunflowers nearly did me in. Sometimes I was tempted to cheat, and smear over some of the numbers, but I restrained myself. I stuck with the rules. To the finish.
You need a great deal of patience to pursue Painting-by-Number. And a very steady hand. Not mine tonight. A young man’s hand. I recommend it, because at the end of the road, when you’ve painted in that last number 17, you have a very fine piece of art, your own Van Gogh, done in your own hand. You’ve sort of re-experienced his suffering. But without having to cut off your ear, of course. No amount of money can buy that. That sense of accomplishment is priceless. It stays with you a lifetime. My very own Van Gogh.
Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.
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