Woman Alone: Self Portrait
Stephen Dorneman
Break
Catherine closes and locks the door behind her, then flips on the spotlights of the small Back Bay gallery and studio. Her paintings flare into view around her, intense blocks of primary colors separated by slashes of black and white. She takes the New York Times from under her arm and unfolds it, revealing both the circled review and the Kasumi ceramic chef's knife. She looks back to her paintings, her children on the walls. She loves every one of them equally, and hates every one of them fiercely.
"This reviewer concedes that Catherine McPhee's abstract paintings contain echoes of Rothko and are already commanding surprisingly high prices from international collectors."
Lukas didn't leave her for another artist. That was the way he came to her. But an affair would have made so much more sense than the accumulation of little irritations and artistic disagreements that culminated in the wine-fueled argument at Saint last week.
"I can't believe you're screaming at me because you don't like the way I sort the laundry." Catherine said. She struggled to keep her voice low and even, but could already feel the eyes turning towards their table.
"You still don't get it, do you? It's not the laundry. It's not the emergency numbers taped to the phones. It's not even the way you line up the colors on your palette, the same way every time. It's how you're on the pill and you still make me use a condom, after two fucking years together. You take everything I've given you, and then you tighten up the screws so nothing can come loose and you suck all the passion, all the heavenly fire out of it." Lukas pushed his chair back, leaned forward onto the table, and keep going. "You won't let down your guard ever, and it shows in everything you do. In the studio, in the bedroom, in this god-damned trendy bar. You're not an artist, you're a boring fucking technician. A painting robot."
She just sat there and stared at him, composing her reply. He surely wanted her to scream, or cry. Instead, she calmly pushed back.
"Is it possible that you're jealous because my work is selling better than yours ever did, despite your 'critical acclaim'?"
"This isn't fucking investment banking, we're not keeping score. It's art. It's about emotions, danger, fucking with people's heads." Now Lukas was standing up and screaming, waving his hands at her, and a cluster of waiters gathered and started to move towards them. Catherine made the excuses, and somehow managed to drag Lukas out to a cab.
He left in the morning. Two days later, he sent her a financial calculator in the mail. He had smashed in the display, and painted the keys black and the case blood red. After seeing his latest creation, she decided to call a locksmith. The studio was her own. The work was her own.
The review disagreed.
"The Structuralists argued that meaning naturally emerges from small differences. If so, McPhee's meaning can be read separately from the work of Lukas Richter, her long-time companion, collaborator, and mentor. This reviewer is not a Structuralist, however. Perhaps this show would be best evaluated merely as an extension, as it were, of the Richter oeuvre."
Catherine puts down the paper, but keeps the ivory-bladed knife with her. The Japanese blade is warm, so unlike steel, and she touches the tip to her thin wrists, lightly tracing a series of diagonal lines without breaking the skin. After a moment she stops, moves to the first painting, and methodically cuts it from the frame. Canvas after canvas quickly piles up in the center of the high-ceiled room. Lukas' stainless-steel lighter weighs heavily in the pocket of her sweater.
She may not have an artist's passion, but she will have a heavenly fire.
Stephen Dorneman is an occasional MFA student, occasional Quantitative Analyst, living in Boston and workshopping at Boston's Grub Street writer's collective.