Fostering Artistic Talent

i.

The room is dark and smells of salt and industry, like a port at night. Soft rectangles of teal blue circle the room. Between each, other materials are housed—gallon containers of paint, frames and scraps of wood not yet assembled, five enormous rolls of unprimed canvas stacked upright like carpet in a furniture supply warehouse. In the centre of the room, a twelve-foot square concrete dais and a garden hose coiled neatly nearby.

A window of light appears in the ceiling—a silhouette descends through a hatch, down a rickety wooden ladder. The figure approaches the centre, stands atop the dais; reaches for a chain.

Pulls and a spotlight ignites. A man surveys the aquarium tanks that line the room. His long, ashen dreads are tied in a single, thick vine. He wears a black apron with a pouch in front; slips a rubber, elbow-length glove over each hand, rolling the ends up past the keloid scars that crosshatch his fawn-coloured skin.

He—Samael—lays a large square of canvas on the concrete dais, using metal woodworking clamps to position it flat against the cool, damp surface. He reaches for a gallon tub of white latex paint and a flat, two-inch brush, and proceeds to prime the canvas. As he works, he replays in his mind the interview conducted earlier that day with an agitated, uncertain young man called Fairweather who annoyingly insisted on addressing Samael by the wrong name. As a rule, Samael was not generally fond of interviews and had only agreed to it at Gregor’s request.

Mister Lüst, Fairweather had called him, before ascribing frustrating, couched labels to his work: controversial, confrontational. Unconventional. Samael rejected such assertions—his work was avant-garde; calling a successful work of art “unconventional,” he thought, was a form of linguistic cowardice.

Samael finishes priming the canvas—a near-perfect square of white with a two-inch perimeter. He leans over the material, presses his thumb into the paint at the very centre, leaving behind a faint impression of a thumbprint like a topographical map of a mountain—his signature. He wipes his thumb on the apron and goes to the wall of aquariums behind him.

He stands between two glowing teal tanks, wracked by indecision. He settles on the one to the left and reaches into the water. From within, he removes a wiggling, half-metre-long cephalopod. Its moonlight blue body shimmers in the dim studio light. With his other hand, he grabs its eight tentacles and bunches them together to keep the creature from thrashing free.

The artist carries the squirming cephalopod to the dais and places it above the centre of the freshly primed canvas, right over his thumbprint. Beneath direct light, the creature’s dark, slick skin begins to change; colours materialize, churning beneath the surface—ocean blues, orange and crimson segmented by tracks of abyss black. He observes as its tentacles sweep across the surface as if rooting to the canvas itself.

He unsheathes a fine-tipped brush from the apron’s pouch, spins it around—its reverse is sharpened into a spike. Drives it through the cephalopod’s large head, right above the canvas’ centre. He’s careful not to pierce the material beneath. The creature shudders; its tentacles stiffen. Samael retracts the brush; a clothesline strand of paint veins the weapon to the wound. The creature’s skin comes apart at the seams. It dissolves; its innards seep into the canvas, flattening into the shape taken prior to death.

As the paint sets, Samael uses the sharpened tip of the brush and carefully lifts the empty, transparent skin of the cephalopod from the canvas. He tosses the limp epidermis into a nearby trashcan.

Staring at his work, Samael notes how the creature’s insides reveal a symmetrical design—a mirrored pattern. The centre a large oval surrounded by eight crescents, impressions left by the tentacles. Where its beak had been, a trigon of white.

In his hand, the brush continues to drip.

 

>>Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, 2016

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