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Two Colours

by apcharman 

Posted: 12 January 2007
Word Count: 3790
Summary: An ambitious piece; not immediately accessible, but you'll understand why if you manage to get all the way through it.

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It is five months since José Luis started work on this painting. They always take him over. Each painting is the only thing he ever wanted to say, and each one is the ultimate, final expression. Starting was never easy, but never before did he have a problem finishing. It is a painting that is eluding him. It is defying him.

There will be an unfinished work, of course, he has known that for some time, but he does not believe this it. Every day he gets a little closer and today has a dawn, just like every other morning.

He strokes his cheeks and chin with hard, tough old fingers. A week’s growth scrapes against his skin, feeling rough-cut, sounding like a hand-saw. The tap squeaks as he screws it open and the cold water gives way to a steaming flow of warmth; he cups his hands with prayer-like symmetry, scoops up a face-full, then looks himself in the eye as droplets fall from his nose. The mirror is dulled by dried-on water, but still his image is clear.

It is such an old face. He’d never expected to have a face so aged—not so grooved, so patterned by time. It is strange to him now, like a brother he has not seen in decades, and it is uncomfortable. These lines in his bark were carved by events that he resisted, by developments he resented, by people too powerful, too callous, too stupid and too mean to contain, but whom he opposed nonetheless; whom he opposes still. The wounds and the graining are alien and serve only to obscure the truth of him. They are the boundary that he lies beyond. He lives elsewhere, in another land where he is still the child; still amused that he can cause such trouble with a paintbrush.

He wipes his hand down his face, clearing the water from his oily skin and his eyes twinkle back at him. He smiles, and then, as he shuffles through to his studio, his smile becomes a smirk. Which is it, he wonders, that causes those beautiful women half his age—a quarter his age—to touch his arm as they talk to him? That twinkle? The knowledge of what trouble his brush can cause? Or is it just his money? Or all of these?

He chuckles to himself as he breaks open a new cardboard box of brushes; he pulls one out; the thickest, the largest; and he holds it in front of his face. It is still an object of beauty, just in itself. The flame of sable, flaring from the metal crimp to such a wealthy, generous, sumptuous bulge and then tapering with such refinement to its delicate, perfect tip. And in colour it is inimitable—the hairs blend through the subtlest, most elusive shades of cream. His lifetime has been homage to this object of worshipful perfection. And it could still absorb so many.

The brush goes on the table beside his easel along with the others from the packet. He clears yesterday’s canvas from the stand with only a moment’s pause to consider it. It is white, still—a broad rectangle of white, as rough-edged as his chin, painted onto grey-blue backing. But like the others he has discarded in this his most recent pursuit, it is not the white he is after. It is not white enough. For an hour or so he prepares another couple of backgrounds; more grey-blue expanse that is nothing except that it is not plain canvass, and is not whiteness. But it is whiteness he is thinking of as he paints the blue-grey. It is whiteness, and all it stands for, that runs through his mind and that is projected onto the screen in front of him. It is whiteness that he is considering.

He has started to question himself. He knows he is right and that the questions will lead nowhere, but the questions arise all the same.

He does not mean to express purity. That is the crucial point. His childhood was not pure any more than any other childhood might be pure. He can see, now, cast onto the petrol-blue oil, drifting over the glistening lines as they are spread upon the surface, a face; a figure. It is Jesús, holding out a pair of sandals, offering them to him with hands that are grained with dirt and the tyre rubber he’d made them from. And God knows, Jesús was no angel, stealing tyres from the truck stops, but his teeth were white and even, all on display in the grin he offered over the shoes. White. Only white; but white, nonetheless.

And his brother’s teeth had the white of cotton bleached in the sun; another memory-image that came back again and again, as recent as a list of things he ought to be finishing off today. No-one seems to dry their sheets outside anymore, but his mother was always clipping them up, or pulling them down and it was invariably he who had to hold one end of corners while she folded. Just white; no other colour. And that was the core of it now; that it was no other colour.

With one canvass fully coloured, he swaps it over for another, brand new, unblemished frame. This is the luscious, succulent fruit of his success; a fresh canvas for every sketch, a new box of brushes for each new day.

He starts again with the petrol-grey. And perhaps he would never have needed to paint if his life had remained devoid of other colours. If things had remained so white, maybe he would have stayed in the village and lived a simple life like his father and his uncles; wearing white peasant frocks on fiestas, working hard, dying young. Maybe. Or, if there had never been Fascism, maybe he’d have found something else to paint about; something more comfortable than his constant protests. Who knows if he wouldn’t have painted flowers, or portraits, or landscapes? Or maybe it wouldn’t have been so different. Perhaps trouble would still have flowed from his paintbrush—maybe he’d have been the impassioned subvertor of something else. Who knows if the colours would have been gentler; easier? Who knows whether they could have been so much more simple?

When he has prepared another three canvasses for tomorrow, he starts with those he set up yesterday. His back is starting to ache already, but this is not something he cares too much about. There was always pain. And it might be that today he’ll find the white he wants, and that tomorrow’s canvasses go unworked. He remains optimistic, but prepares them all the same.

From the shelf below the brushes he retrieves his glasses. With these pinned on his nose he inspects the oil from the day before. It is not dry, of course, it will take months to dry completely, but it’s set enough that he can layer the white on top without the colour bleeding in. He is like a miser inspecting an expense. The grey must know its place. It is texture, it is that which is not white, nor the colour that followed. It is the dowdy housekeeper, not the glamorous young duchess. And when he is done with the inspection, he turns to another box.

This has been sent from Austria. He does not recall the ingredient that justifies the claims they make for it, nor the level of expense it has taken him to. But the tube squeezes onto fresh clean board with promising clarity. He takes up the brush and holds it once more in front of his nose, acknowledging its last unblemished moments. With a sigh he scoops it through the shimmering slug that is curled on his pallet, holds the gathered force above the canvass, then, with a single, surgical, meaning-laden stroke, draws it across the centre of the rectangle.

He knows with the first stroke it is inadequate. His teeth start chewing at his gums and his eyebrows twitch with the scepticism of a master. He does not deprive the new paint its moment of test, but the failure is already marked up. And when a patch is complete, its thick rails showing the subtlest shadows of rise and fall, his conclusion is made whole. There was nothing so plastic in his youth. His youngest years were undoubtedly white, but not in this way.

His sigh of defeat is deep and fully felt. Its an old chest that heaves such a breath and moving it so profoundly is no trivial matter. He has another two canvasses for today and the others ready for tomorrow, but really this was his last clear hope; this special package from Vienna. Where can he claim that whiteness from now?

He sighs again and pulls the wasted canvass onto his lap. It sits there like a cat that eats only the neighbours’ food. But there is a glint which catches his eye. He pushes his glasses up, and once the surface is more fully in focus, he pulls it close.

It is less than a millimetre across in any direction and if José Luis should hold the canvass at the wrong angle it slips away from the edge of one paint-ridge to the next. And, he sees, it will be gone when the paint is dry; but the tiny speck might be the whiteness he is after.

He makes an inexplicable leap. This is not the white from the paint he holds in his eye—it is the white from the light. And it comes directly from the light-bulb that lights his studio. He almost drops the canvass in his haste.

He uses the towel from the bathroom to unscrew the light-bulb; it is still wet from his face and the moisture rises in tiny wisps of steam, but when it is done, the bulb lies on the towel in his hand like the new-born baby of inspiration.

He has no idea how he might do this, but he places a glass jar beneath the bulb, full of expectation, then he catches hold of the stem with one hand and with the other, grips the glass lightly. Very slowly, with infinite compassion, he turns his hands and tightens his grip. It is how one might wring the life from a swan, but with quite astonishingly different results. The glass does not shatter, but bends and twists to his command and a small, slow trickle of light oozes out. Some soaks into the towel, but a small flow—steady for a second—dribbles over the material and into the jar he placed below it. When he tightens the last wringing motion a small, final, generous spurt splashes into the container.

He licks his lips with anticipation as he wipes his hands on his jeans, then he picks up the jar and stares into it with wonder. Liquid light! And he is chuckling as he replaces the canvass, barely feeling the regret as he sacrifices another brush.

In a few minutes he has painted the panel. A bright, shining rectangle of white, set confidently in the middle of its bed of petrol grey. It is certainly not an ordinary scene. His old and wrinkled skin is lit up as he looks on it; his smile made brighter by the very light he has painted. But no sooner has he had time to marvel at his creation, than he realises the disappointment. His face sags, and the light gives him the mask of a clown.

Certainly this is something no-one has painted before. It would set on end those hairs on the backs of the necks of the young critics who feel the need to be so carefully barbered, he has no doubt of that, but it is not the white of this youth. Still not. His eyes close. He dives inside himself to check for the pain; finds it, mourns the loss of hope, refreshes his determination with stubborn refusal to admit defeat and returns to himself. His eyes open. He sighs and scrapes the liquid light back into the jug. Someday he’ll need it. A little petrol-grey-blue gets scraped in there too, but that might be fitting; there’s never any telling.

When he moves to the far side of the studio, looking out over the city’s skyline, his hands are behind his back with a forgotten brush trailing lines of light like tiny tufts of grass on his tunic. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps this is defeat. It will come one day.

He sits, and continues to stare out over the roof-tops. It is a dull, hazy morning, making the distant Eiffel Tower a vague streak in a bland, grey wash. He was fifteen when he stood at the end of the Pont d’Léna and watched the German officers walk around it. Already at that age he had enough experience to know a Fascist instantly. It was in the laugh. Even among the Germans there were those who laughed nervously, apologetically; those whose laugh acknowledged the death and chaos that made possible their new possession. Not so the Fascists. For them, the deaths of their enemies brought scorn, and the scorn bled out with their laughter. When they laughed, they mocked. Of course they loved the Eiffel Tower. That was the fascist through and through. They could not help but love something so dominant; so brutal and so utterly, irredeemably obvious. That was the other mark of the Fascist; they hated to think.

José Luis finally notices the brush he has been holding in his hands. It has dripped light onto the floor in front of him and there are specks beaming from the suede of his slippers. He smiles, amused by the cartoon quality of his invention. He looks around and finds a glass full of liquid. One sniff tells him it is solvent, so he drops the brush into it. Surprisingly, the liquid light reacts with violence, fizzing and popping and spitting flecks of burning light out of the glass. He pulls the brush out and waits for the mini-fireworks to abate then finds another container in reach, this one full of water. It takes the brush more easily. The light spreads out, glows for a second and then quietly and sadly, dies.

José Luis gave up smoking ten years ago when the insistence of his eldest daughter got too much to ignore and it is at times like these he wishes he hadn’t promised her quite so fervently. The deep inhalation would do him good now. To puff smoke at the Eiffel tower would be some sort of rebellion that might stir his soul. He could have lit up right then, blown out and carried on thinking.

Why was it that Fascists hated art that asked them to think? He’d never understood. It was not a big thing. It wasn’t even as though the request was impolite. You could consider abstract, surrealist, cubist, non-figurative art if you wished. Or not. So why burn it? Why kill someone for painting it? Why did they not find it possible to leave it alone? Why kill Léon? Georges? They’d been gods to him; almost as exalted as his brother.

He draws a deep breath; a deliberately deep breath. It does him no good to dwell on these things; it never has done. They happened a long time ago. His head is turned sideways so his focus falls on the bookshelf at the far end of the studio; his studio; his prodigious, over-sized, chaos of a studio. Maybe there is a book somewhere explaining the thinking of the Fascist. Perhaps they have explained this loathing of art that is not obvious. Still he wonders; is it Fascist to exclaim that your two-year-old daughter could have painted something better?

He sighs again, knowing it would do him no good to know the answers to these questions. He peers at the books. Then he turns, slowly, thoughtfully, and looks back at the light bulb, now slightly deflated and wrung dry of light. He looks back at the books. Another glance at the bulb, and his twinkling eyes start to widen.

He pushes his old frame to its feet, staring at the books and wondering at the possibilities. He shuffles over to them in awe; shocked at his own thoughts and, with trembling hands, places a large plastic bottle on a table then takes the nearest book and tries what worked with the light-bulb. Nothing happens. Not a single letter is squeezed from the pages. He flicks through the leaves. It will need more. He finds the jug of solvent now whitened by light and pours a little onto the page. His old mouth falls open as he sees a few letters shift in sympathy with the flow of liquid.

“Ah oui, c’est ca!”

They are the first words he has uttered in the day. He pours more solvent then picks up a palette knife. With this he can scrape the letters into the jug. The bottle of solvent glugs like a whorish wine as he pours it into a depth in the container. The letters float and mix almost dissolving into a mass. He opens another book, soaking it in solvent then scraping the words out, then another, working his way along the shelf and flinging the soaked exhausted books aside when he is done. Within minutes he has a new reservoir. Another new paint; this time, of words.

He holds it up and studies the liquid. It is unseeable. He laughs out-loud with his deep, rich, ex-smoker’s laugh. Of course, you cannot see what is possible but is not yet made real; of course not. So he turns and strides to his canvas. He walks as a young man might; as a man who has forgotten himself.

“¡Ahora!” he declares, “¡Vamos a ver!”

Now we will see.

He draws out a new brush. This time he holds it up with due ceremony. He stares at the perfect sable bouffant and almost kisses it with delight. Then he plunges it into the cup of words and turns his attention to the canvass.

Again it is evident with the first careful stroke across the surface. But now he stops; and stares.

His eyes run across it back and forth. It is just the single stroke of the brush, ridged where he first pushed against the canvass, bare, thin and separated at the far end where the brush ran short of paint, but still it is astounding. It is like arriving home, to see such a thing. Like walking past the house where his uncle lived, up the steps and into his mother’s kitchen to the smell of roasting peppers.

His bottom lis starts to quiver. He rolls his jaw like a masticating cow in an attempt to keep control, he even turns away; but it has no effect. His vision blurs as tears bloom to his eyes and he has to blink them clear; to sigh, to shake his shoulders free from of the emotion.

This is it. This is the whiteness of his youth.

It takes a while before he can continue. To control himself he does not look again at the whole effect. He lets the tears stream down the wadis of his cheeks and focuses on the tiniest detail; the patches where the weave of canvas still shows through the backdrop of grey-blue oil; the ridges and furrows of the paint; the lines and the size and the shape of the rectangle he is painting.

Finally, when there is nothing more to do to make it complete, he steps back and lets himself see the whole effect. It is overwhelming. He is nodding, desperately sucking in his lips; squinting and squirming at the intensity of emotion. That is it. He can see it so clearly; it is so precisely right.

He sits back on the stool, draws his eyes from the vision he has created, lowers his face into the palms of his hands; and he weeps. He has painted the white of the youth that he lost. And seeing it again is almost too much. He weeps uncontrollably, dripping great droplets of tears onto the dust-covered floor of his studio.

His back shakes for five, maybe ten minutes; until he is done. And then he stops. His sighs are deep and plentiful. He stares up at what he has done, his chin in his own hands, and wonders how anyone can possibly understand it.

It is not yet complete, even though the main part is done. It is still missing the other colour; the colour that came after the white. The colour they brought with them. Eventually, wearily, he pulls himself up from the stool and moves to the table top where the other oils are. It seems a trivial decision to sort through the tubes of paint and select the right hue. But he forces himself to be careful; to make the right decision.

He picks up three tubes and forces out a confession from each one. The resultant worms lie on a palette for him to consider. It could be either of two, but one he knows which will dry darker, so he selects the other. With another large excretion of this paint spread over his palette he creates the second panel for the second colour. It is below the white of his youth and slightly to the left.

When it is done he steps back to review the whole work. Very soon he is standing, the brush still in his hand, nodding his head. He has done it; better than ever he thought he might be able to. He has painted both the colours. He sighs and mutters to himself.

“Et voila. C’est ca.”

Then he sits back on the stool, stares at it.

There it is. It looks like this:

White: as driven snow in the arctic. White like ice, like polar bear fur, like an arctic dawn from the furthest to your left, right around you, to the furthest to your right. White like the tallest billowing clouds that bloom over coastal mountains too enormous to believe in; crystal sharp edges; white bulges, white movement; impossible to know. White as the foaming waves that break on shores of undiscovered islands. White like light too dazzling to see. White like the sheets my mother used to cast into space to fill like the sails of tall-ships bound for distant salty-laden seas. White like teeth. White so white its edges are powder blue. White like horizons; and dawns; and distant dreams of tent walls flapping in winsome winds. White like frailty. White like surrender. White like hope.


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Comments by other Members

Irina at 19:09 on 12 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Andy.

I enjoyed this immensely. You say that this is your most ambitious piece so far and it shows: the ideas, the character, the language - it's all in another league. A lot of these notes are to do with details rather than big thematic or structural issues, as I felt that that these were coming over very successfully.

I didn’t have any problems with accessibility – the pacing was good and details and information about Jose Luis and the problems he is having with his work (ie, the crisis, which is of course about more than just this one painting, like any good crisis) were introduced quite naturally. Be careful with the tense in the first paragraph though. I like the immediacy of the present tense but in the fourth sentence it wandered into the past tense. Likewise in the second paragraph, some things are past tense, some present. Even where it’s not technically incorrect to have things in the past, I’d stick with just the one tense: it looks more decisive in a section making sweeping statements about the artist’s life.

Loved the detail of him looking at himself in the mirror, especially “He’d never expected to have a face so aged.” Also the comparison of his own face to a brother’s.

In paragraph 6 I’m not sure if the brush as “a flame of sable” worked. It describes the shape perfectly, but the colour is all wrong. This may be too pernickety but it snagged my attention when I wanted to be reading on. Also the final sentence of that para seemed redundant: maybe cut? Likewise in the next para, the sentence “But like the others he has discarded in this his most recent pursuit, it is not the white he is after” felt very cluttered. Perhaps pare down to simply “ But it is not the white he is after”?

The stream of memory in the next few paras and the way each memory nudges into the next, all linked by the colour, was excellent. Really thought that worked well.

“He is like a miser inspecting an expense.” Felt forced to me: could he be inspecting his hoard if that’s not too clichéd? A few lines later, I think it should be “The grey must know its place…nor the colour that follows” (or ‘is to follow’ - not followed)? In the next para, “single, surgical, meaning-laden stroke” felt too cluttered. Howabout simply “single, surgical stroke” or maybe “one surgical stroke” if all the alliteration is too much!

I loved the line “It is how one might wring the life from a swan” but thought it might be stronger without the second half of the sentence – we’re about to see the results after all.

Re the use of Spanish v French: I understand why some of his exclamations are in French and some Spanish. He is (I'm presuming) a Spanish exile now living in Paris - French his is everyday language, Spanish his mother tongue, the language of his youth. I assume that switching between languages was a device to differentiate mere remarks from deeper, more 'soulful', exclamations - it's a great idea and I've seen it used to great success in other places, but I don’t think it quite came off here, simply because there are only three, very short, lines of speech. Switching looked indecisive or worse, as if the character could not remember whether he was French or Spanish. I'm just flagging it up: because although it didn’t work for me, it wasn't confusing. However, I did feel strongly that if this is the logic at work then “Et voila. C’est ca” should definitely be Spanish, not French.

Moving onto the final painting: the light and words. This so worked for me. Very moving: and absolutely made sense following the logic of his thoughts and memories. However, “like a masticating cow” shattered that beautiful mood! Maybe it’s just me – all the other description of an old man dealing with a powerful emotion seemed spot on, but masticating was an interruption too far.

Re the ending: the structure and the balance really came off here. The torrent of emotions, descriptions and memories all undercut by the final “red”. For me the almost overblown nature of the penultimate paragraph comes off. There’s a sort of wild exuberance to the descriptions that worked better than I thought it should – if that makes sense. I admit that I saw the red-as-second-colour coming, and yet that didn’t stop the final line being a payoff for me.

All in all a very moving, very powerful piece. I hope this is useful – let me know if anything doesn’t make sense as some things are a bit in note form.

Thanks, it was a pleasure to read!

apcharman at 08:47 on 14 January 2007  Report this post
Thanks Irina, that's really useful feedback and I'm really glad you liked it. I think I'd have been a bit forlorn if it hadn't worked.
I haven't time to go through each of your comments now, but on first reading they all make perfect sense. Quite why I thought 'masticating cow' would work, I have no idea.


Irina, I'll repost soon with these comments added in. Only one point I haven't implemented as you state. He considers the white and then the other colour that followed. Grammatically 'followed' makes no sense unless it is clear that he is thinking of the memory (the red; the death of his brother). So I'm left with the problem of whether to leave the odd sentence, which is true the character's thoughts even though it will read more easily. Any thoughts anyone?

Becca at 11:33 on 16 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Andy,
Some really hard work's gone into this. It's a lovely piece of magic realism. I'd have wanted some more glimpses though of the underlying story, I took it to be about the fascists and maybe the death of his friends, and I took it that he was in a state of mourning somehow. Did the words make the red colour?

'...like a brother he has not seen in decades...' lovely line.

I found a couple of misplaced or lost words: 'He does not deprive the new paint its moment of test...' --> of its moment?
'...free from of the emotion.' --> of or from?

'...like tiny tufts of grass on his tunic' didn't fit the idea of light very well - trails of pollen?

I felt that there was a bit too much emphasis on his physical responses, and you could edit them down a little, in particular 'He is nodding, desperately sucking in his lips, squinting and squirming at the intensity of the emotion' was overladen. Also the masticating cow pokes the reader rudely in the ribs.
'...his chin in his own hands,...' - 'own' is superfluous because he's alone in his studio.

I thought at 'The colour they brought with them.' That the colour would be the grey of the fascists' uniforms, I guess because you'd mentioned grey a lot before.

I think this is a really thoughtful and tender story, but I would edit down a few of the adjectives and other types of describing a little, - and as I said give a few more glimpses into the underlying story, because, as reader, I was looking out for those and didn't think there were enough. Even though the man's painting materials are beautifully described, I was waiting as reader all the time to know what is prompting his thinking and decisions. It was a good read, Andy.

apcharman at 13:01 on 16 January 2007  Report this post
Thanks Becca,
You set me an interesting challenge. I can see you point about wanting to know more of the back-story, but it'll take some judiciousness to get that right. I like extended metaphors (had you noticed?), but I think, in response to yours and Elizabeth's comments, I shall make sure that everything is pared down and an easy read for the most part so that the extensions work in key places. Thanks for the guidance.

Nessie at 15:23 on 18 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Andy

Thanks for this.. it is very ‘different’ and I enjoyed the read.

You have created a fascinating character here… with his wonderful magical new skill gained in old age, of painting with light, then with words. I enjoy the way his past is slowly revealed as he paints.. childhood, wartime strife, his struggle against fascism. Glimpses of wartime Paris. Evocative descriptions of the studio of a successful but aging artist. This has the makings of a really interesting piece. Close to magical realism. The painting with light is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story in which two boys fill their parent’s flat with light from a broken light bulb and float a rowing boat on it.

Title and opening:
I wonder if Two Colours is the most original title you could think of for this piece? It deserves something more fitting of the originality, I think… although it is ‘OK’ as is
I was thrown a few time by things that confused me, in the opening. ‘This’ painting becomes ‘they’ in a few words. ‘They’ revert to ‘It’ by the end of the paragraph.
The paragraph in which Jose Luis is described is fine, he is a solid being… but there are one or two little things that throw themselves up at me. The string of adjectives ‘hard, tough, old’, for example. The use of ‘face-full’, which seems out of place here. The confusion you set up when you say the mirror is dulled , but the image it throws is clear.

However, by the end of the next paragraph we have enough about this man to know he has an interesting background, and I was looking forward to finding out about him.

Character: We only really have one, Jose Luis himself. And he is fine, but could be stronger if the writer didn’t keep standing between him and me… I found there was a lot of authorial intrusion in this piece. And it’s Jose Luis who suffers. However, having said that he is still intriguing… and well worth making stronger. The others, in his past, are brushstrokes, but feel real. The mother hanging sheets. The friend Jesus with the sandals (lovely!) I didn’t feel the Germans were quite real though for some reason. Those descriptions were alittle stereotypical.

I think perhaps this is where the story is weakest, at present. I kept tripping up over the writer pushing into the story, so that it became a tussle to let Jose Luis reveal himself… it was hard to form a relationship with him… I kept being dragged away by the writer, like a child at a party pulling on a parent’s sleeve.

There are a myriad examples of this. Sentences and phrases where it doesn’t feel organic. Which feel ‘writerly’ or ‘over-stretched’.


“His lifetime had been homage to this object of worshipful creation.”

“The dowdy housekeeper not the glamorous duchess”

“meaning-laden stroke”

There’s even an example of purple prose!

And then the section where the story tips into magical realism, is I’m afraid, constantly marred by explanations or ‘apologies… viz:

‘he makes an inexplicable leap’

‘like the new born baby of inspiration’

‘He has no idea how he might do this’ then doing it straight off…

But having said that, there are also some fabulous lines… I’ll pick those out in ‘language’

Aging artist struggles to find the right white to paint so that his childhood is evoked. Until he finds he can paint with light, then words. He does so, then paints a second colour, red.

As the plot progresses we find out about his background in flashback.

It works… but is rather unnecessarily inaccessible in places, as the writer himself points out!

And printers ink is black.. so I was confused how that ended up white on the canvas?


This is one of those where certainly there is plenty of depth and resonance. But at the moment, I feel that to be obscured by so much verbiage… repetition etc.

The theme of artists using their skills to represent and challenge events is a strong one. As is the sub thread of traditional versus contemporary art. .. Id like to see it communicated in a clearer way though. More white!!

For all the wordiness, it kept me interested. I wanted to know what was going to happen. But I think it is too long, could be cut easily, to render it snappier. That will be the same for ‘pace’ too. Its very even at the moment.

Language: I’ve put the negatives above, under voice. But there are some fabulous lines, and if this writer can conjure those, then I’m imagining what an entire story of that strength would be…

“The light spreads out, glows for a second and then quietly and sadly, dies.”

Pace: see ‘drama’ above

The last paragraph feels very ‘aware of itself’, inorganic.
However, the final image is strong, and throws a light back over the backstory…

Id love to know more about the inspiration for this. Who is the painter, his brothers? or is it purely fictional? It felt as though you’d been grounded at the start before taking off into imagination. For me, the story took off then...

thanks again


Terry Edge at 12:29 on 23 March 2007  Report this post

I was drawn to look at your writing by reading some of the very insightful critiques you've made on WW.

I think this is fabulous writing, in both senses of the word. It's powerful, subtle, gripping, full of integrity, with suspense and a satisfying climax - which is a tremendous achievement, considering this is not a conventional story, really. Everything pretty much happens inside the main character's head.

For me, great writing is when the author's presence is not felt; when he is able to immerse the reader so thoroughly in his characters, that it's their lives we feel, their thoughts and their concerns. This story-integrity is something that is usually way beyond the abilities of commercial writers, and something that chick-litters, for example, don't even realise is possible. You do it very well here, and one of the key notes of your success is that the writing is mostly invisible, allowing the colours, sounds, smells to jump straight into the reader's mind.

This really is a masterful character study, built through terrific description, involving all the senses. Within it, you weave Jose's background and how it is still driving him to find exact expression, despite his fame and riches.

There's also a very moving and profound climax, and Jose's achievement is something we can all appreciate, whether or not we're painters ourselves.

There are a few places where the story-integrity wavers a little, but nothing major. One example is the paragraph that begins, 'In a few minutes he has painted the panel . . . ' Here there's a POV shift, in that you describe how his face looks in ways he wouldn't be aware of, really.

About half way through, I found myself needing a shock-point, to shift the story into another level, e.g. by the introduction of a another character. But I think you just about pull off the effect by shifting instead into what may or may not be him going a little insane. And if I looked at this aspect more closely, I might be troubled by it. He must either have developed magic powers with what he does with the light bulb and books, or he is a little bonkers. The first doesn't really mesh with the tenor of the story up that point: he seems very rooted in reality, i.e. he's visionary but also successful with his art. And the going bonkers doesn't really seem logical either. Personally, I'd have preferred him to make that break-through by less 'magical' means, but appreciate that would be difficult without introducing an outside shock that you may not want to fracture the mood with.

I was also a little disappointed that you didn't really follow-up the rebellious side of his nature. There's that lovely line about trouble flowing from his paintbrush, but we don't really see this actively come to fruition. I know there's the 'red' at the end - and very effective it is, too - but that's passive, really. You talk about his womanising and the twinkle in the eye, so I was expecting some raging, and unreasonableness, and selfish brilliance, but this aspect gets a little softened as we go on, especially by the bit about his daughter making him give up smoking - I don't know, I can't imagine Picasso doing that somehow.

But, really, this is tremendous writing. At a gut-response level, I loved it.


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