Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Masterpiece

pure fiction

The Masterpiece

On a pristine Sunday afternoon, my wife and I stood at the corner of Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, facing that common dilemma between two people out together with no plans. We each desired to go a different way. We had just finished eating brunch in La Jolla, a coastal town overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego, and our home for more than 30 years. I wanted to go down the hill to La Jolla Cove to watch the swimmers, scuba divers, snorklers, kayakers, all the human life that swarms to the ocean on a balmy day. The advancing arthritis in my knee and hip joints had prevented me from taking my weekly swim out to the ½ mile buoy and back. Gradually I had become outwardly content to sit on the bench and watch the ocean waves breaking over the rocks. Underneath the waves, the water teemed with stingrays, garibaldi, kelp, and tiger sharks. Life above the water joined in, and the water became one world.

However, the car was parked at the upper end of Girard, and my wife insisted that we shop while making our way back. “I would like to see the ocean,” I insisted. “Honestly!” she said with a certainty that she would get her way. “We have lived here for 30 years. We see the ocean everyday.”

She began strolling down the avenue, window-shopping along the way. She slowed a bit, aware that I hadn’t joined her yet. I glanced westward to the ocean, only a block away. Then I relented, caught up to my wife, and escorted her while she shopped. She stopped at Armani, Escada, and Polo, among other places typical for La Jolla. Occasionally we encountered friends also out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

At the upper end of Girard Ave. we went into the second hand shop run by the local charity. Over the years we had donated many discarded items to this shop and Mary knew the manager there well. The two women fell quickly into a tireless conversation.

I ambled through the store somewhat patiently, and made my way towards the back where a large sideboard stood in a dark corner. In the dim light, I noticed what appeared to be a carved frame slightly behind it. I pulled the frame out and discovered a painting covered with years of grime and dust.

The painting surprised me. Despite the obvious quality,it appeared to be unsigned. The artist had depicted an exquisite ocean vista with the water glistening in the sun. The waves crashed into huge bluffs lining the north end of a white sand beach as a storm approached from the horizon. The brush technique seemed skillful, and yet the pigments were raw and unblended. The cadmium green was distinct from the prussian blue, as was the verdigris from the ultramarine. Despite the purity of the pigments and the clean lines between them, or perhaps because of it, I could feel the movement of the water and the sea foam undulating over the waves. The years of dust and neglect had not dulled the details and raw colors. The glowing, numinous nature shone through the dirty glaze.

In a flash I was back on the shores of my childhood where I had grown up, where as a youth I had gone clamming, and played in the tidewaters, catching urchins, mussels and sometimes lobsters. Suddenly I could smell and taste the salt water of the Atlantic and hear the rushing sound of waves again. The sand between my toes irritated me, and the undercurrent pulled against my legs relentlessly.

As I stood there reminiscing and reliving the sights and sounds and smells of my youth, I was struck by the vividness of those memories. Despite the decades, which had elapsed, those memories seemed more real than my weekly experience visiting the Cove. The Cove lured me to its shoreline, but still it could not impress upon my senses the same pleasure and intensity as had the shorelines of my youth. As I studied the painting, it occurred to me that when I was a boy, the salt in the ocean seemed saltier, the blueness of the water seemed bluer, and the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline was as thunder echoing through deep chasms. Just as an old Polaroid yellows with time, my mind’s pictures had yellowed. But the joy I sensed in nature had yellowed more so. I longed for those feelings again, and I became determined to restore the painting to its original glory and hang it over my fireplace.

An old tag on the corner of the frame said the price was $125.00. I felt certain the painting was worth far more, and that I had discovered a masterpiece nonchalantly relegated to a dusty corner of a thrift store, its true worth buried for years.

I carried it to the front counter where Mary and the shopkeeper were still talking.

“You want that?” Mary said.

“Yes!” I said. “Look how beautifully the waves move and how the sun shines through the water showing the transparency. It almost looks like the Cove, don’t you think? I will have it professionally reframed and hang it over the fireplace. Look at the quality. It must be a masterpiece of some sort, worth thousands of dollars,” I said confidently.

“We’ve been shopping and I have only $50.00 cash left. Will you take that?” I asked the manager.

We all had a laugh, and the shopkeeper agreed to the price. I carried my newly acquired masterpiece out to the car, overjoyed with the find. As I lifted the painting into the trunk, I noticed a signature on the backside of the canvas. I had not considered looking at the back for a clue to the artist. It read: “Arthur Dobson, age 13.”

A 13 year old boy had painted this masterpiece? For a moment I felt duped, even though I had paid only a nominal amount for it.But then I understood. The 13 year old Arthur Dobson had communicated directly with the 13 year old boy still inside of me. Instead of disappointing me, this revelation endeared the painting to me and made its restoration that much more important.

On the drive home, my plans for it changed. I would do the work myself to reframe and restore it.I wanted to personally wipe away the greyness from the raw, unblended pigments masterfully applied to this canvas.


. . . . . .



At our annual holiday party, the painting became the subject of conversation between some of my colleagues.

“It doesn’t appear to be signed,” Phil said. “ It looks to me to be of the Luminous School. What do you think, Douglas?”

“Perhaps it’s out of the Hudson River School; it’s an excellent example of Romantic Realism. I would say Bierstadt or Marple. Margaret and I have a landscape by Fredrick Church hanging in our living room. Had to have it insured for $1,000,000. Sorenson, have you had it authenticated yet? How much did you pay for it?”

I ignored the crassness of the questions, and the blatant lie Douglas had just told. No way does he own an authentic Frederick Church.

“It’s sort of embarrassing, and I really didn’t want to talk about it,” I said modestly. “The previous owner didn’t know what he had on his hands, and I don’t want him to find out. I am having it authenticated, but you see, I really got a steal. I only paid $7500.00 for it.”

. . . . . .


Mary does not approve of the little joke I played on the society set in La Jolla. Whether I paid $50.00, $7,500, or $750,000 for my masterpiece, what does it matter? The days are approaching when I may not be able to walk to the Cove to feel the mist rising in the air, to hear the thunder of the crashing waves, or to see the teeming life splashing around with joy.

Yet, now I understand that the Cove was but a proxy for what I truly missed: the intensity, clarity, and sensuality of my young life. I missed the raw, unblended pigments of the shorelines of my childhood. I missed the singularity of the unintentional purpose of a 13 year old boy. Now when I long for those clear and boundless sensations again, I will not long for a walk at the Cove. I will look to the masterpiece by Arthur Dobson, age 13, which hangs above my fireplace.

(thanks to Neal A. Kline)

No comments:

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Masterpiece

pure fiction

The Masterpiece

On a pristine Sunday afternoon, my wife and I stood at the corner of Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, facing that common dilemma between two people out together with no plans. We each desired to go a different way. We had just finished eating brunch in La Jolla, a coastal town overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego, and our home for more than 30 years. I wanted to go down the hill to La Jolla Cove to watch the swimmers, scuba divers, snorklers, kayakers, all the human life that swarms to the ocean on a balmy day. The advancing arthritis in my knee and hip joints had prevented me from taking my weekly swim out to the ½ mile buoy and back. Gradually I had become outwardly content to sit on the bench and watch the ocean waves breaking over the rocks. Underneath the waves, the water teemed with stingrays, garibaldi, kelp, and tiger sharks. Life above the water joined in, and the water became one world.

However, the car was parked at the upper end of Girard, and my wife insisted that we shop while making our way back. “I would like to see the ocean,” I insisted. “Honestly!” she said with a certainty that she would get her way. “We have lived here for 30 years. We see the ocean everyday.”

She began strolling down the avenue, window-shopping along the way. She slowed a bit, aware that I hadn’t joined her yet. I glanced westward to the ocean, only a block away. Then I relented, caught up to my wife, and escorted her while she shopped. She stopped at Armani, Escada, and Polo, among other places typical for La Jolla. Occasionally we encountered friends also out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

At the upper end of Girard Ave. we went into the second hand shop run by the local charity. Over the years we had donated many discarded items to this shop and Mary knew the manager there well. The two women fell quickly into a tireless conversation.

I ambled through the store somewhat patiently, and made my way towards the back where a large sideboard stood in a dark corner. In the dim light, I noticed what appeared to be a carved frame slightly behind it. I pulled the frame out and discovered a painting covered with years of grime and dust.

The painting surprised me. Despite the obvious quality,it appeared to be unsigned. The artist had depicted an exquisite ocean vista with the water glistening in the sun. The waves crashed into huge bluffs lining the north end of a white sand beach as a storm approached from the horizon. The brush technique seemed skillful, and yet the pigments were raw and unblended. The cadmium green was distinct from the prussian blue, as was the verdigris from the ultramarine. Despite the purity of the pigments and the clean lines between them, or perhaps because of it, I could feel the movement of the water and the sea foam undulating over the waves. The years of dust and neglect had not dulled the details and raw colors. The glowing, numinous nature shone through the dirty glaze.

In a flash I was back on the shores of my childhood where I had grown up, where as a youth I had gone clamming, and played in the tidewaters, catching urchins, mussels and sometimes lobsters. Suddenly I could smell and taste the salt water of the Atlantic and hear the rushing sound of waves again. The sand between my toes irritated me, and the undercurrent pulled against my legs relentlessly.

As I stood there reminiscing and reliving the sights and sounds and smells of my youth, I was struck by the vividness of those memories. Despite the decades, which had elapsed, those memories seemed more real than my weekly experience visiting the Cove. The Cove lured me to its shoreline, but still it could not impress upon my senses the same pleasure and intensity as had the shorelines of my youth. As I studied the painting, it occurred to me that when I was a boy, the salt in the ocean seemed saltier, the blueness of the water seemed bluer, and the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline was as thunder echoing through deep chasms. Just as an old Polaroid yellows with time, my mind’s pictures had yellowed. But the joy I sensed in nature had yellowed more so. I longed for those feelings again, and I became determined to restore the painting to its original glory and hang it over my fireplace.

An old tag on the corner of the frame said the price was $125.00. I felt certain the painting was worth far more, and that I had discovered a masterpiece nonchalantly relegated to a dusty corner of a thrift store, its true worth buried for years.

I carried it to the front counter where Mary and the shopkeeper were still talking.

“You want that?” Mary said.

“Yes!” I said. “Look how beautifully the waves move and how the sun shines through the water showing the transparency. It almost looks like the Cove, don’t you think? I will have it professionally reframed and hang it over the fireplace. Look at the quality. It must be a masterpiece of some sort, worth thousands of dollars,” I said confidently.

“We’ve been shopping and I have only $50.00 cash left. Will you take that?” I asked the manager.

We all had a laugh, and the shopkeeper agreed to the price. I carried my newly acquired masterpiece out to the car, overjoyed with the find. As I lifted the painting into the trunk, I noticed a signature on the backside of the canvas. I had not considered looking at the back for a clue to the artist. It read: “Arthur Dobson, age 13.”

A 13 year old boy had painted this masterpiece? For a moment I felt duped, even though I had paid only a nominal amount for it.But then I understood. The 13 year old Arthur Dobson had communicated directly with the 13 year old boy still inside of me. Instead of disappointing me, this revelation endeared the painting to me and made its restoration that much more important.

On the drive home, my plans for it changed. I would do the work myself to reframe and restore it.I wanted to personally wipe away the greyness from the raw, unblended pigments masterfully applied to this canvas.


. . . . . .



At our annual holiday party, the painting became the subject of conversation between some of my colleagues.

“It doesn’t appear to be signed,” Phil said. “ It looks to me to be of the Luminous School. What do you think, Douglas?”

“Perhaps it’s out of the Hudson River School; it’s an excellent example of Romantic Realism. I would say Bierstadt or Marple. Margaret and I have a landscape by Fredrick Church hanging in our living room. Had to have it insured for $1,000,000. Sorenson, have you had it authenticated yet? How much did you pay for it?”

I ignored the crassness of the questions, and the blatant lie Douglas had just told. No way does he own an authentic Frederick Church.

“It’s sort of embarrassing, and I really didn’t want to talk about it,” I said modestly. “The previous owner didn’t know what he had on his hands, and I don’t want him to find out. I am having it authenticated, but you see, I really got a steal. I only paid $7500.00 for it.”

. . . . . .


Mary does not approve of the little joke I played on the society set in La Jolla. Whether I paid $50.00, $7,500, or $750,000 for my masterpiece, what does it matter? The days are approaching when I may not be able to walk to the Cove to feel the mist rising in the air, to hear the thunder of the crashing waves, or to see the teeming life splashing around with joy.

Yet, now I understand that the Cove was but a proxy for what I truly missed: the intensity, clarity, and sensuality of my young life. I missed the raw, unblended pigments of the shorelines of my childhood. I missed the singularity of the unintentional purpose of a 13 year old boy. Now when I long for those clear and boundless sensations again, I will not long for a walk at the Cove. I will look to the masterpiece by Arthur Dobson, age 13, which hangs above my fireplace.

(thanks to Neal A. Kline)

No comments: