David Anderson worked eagerly all morning on a painting. He barely felt the freezing temperature in his unheated studio, or paid any attention to a missed lunch. Only a rattling noise, coming from the letterbox at the hall, made him stop. He held his breath. The tin sound was similar as if one had caught their prey in a trap – where he was now the hunter. After all, maybe this was his lucky day.
Immediately, he dropped his brushes on the paint- covered worktable and ran to the entrance to find a small, familiar package. He guessed right. Canada Art Council returned a CD with about forty images of paintings that he had submitted two months ago, hoping for a grant.
Ten years had passed since he graduated from Art College. Galleries and public places displayed his work since then. Occasionally he would sell, but his meagre income came from scenic work for TV or films – so he could pay the rent for this studio, located in an industrial area. The Canada Council sounded promising. He had heard over the years of several artists who received support from the Government. It would have come in handy. David ran an exacto knife through the package. However, in his excitement he cut the enclosed letter in half. He already saw himself taping an enclosed cheque together. Just the same, no such luck. Instead, the letter read: ‘Dear Mr. Anderson: we regret to inform you that the Selection Committee did not recommend a grant for your project or suggest the purchase of any work you had submitted for consideration’.
There were a few more lines about future submissions as an encouraging gesture. He got the message; besides, it was his third try anyhow, just so nobody could say he was not willing to give it a chance.
As he leaned back in his chair, looking out the window, he observed the grey sky of Toronto. He now could feel the November cold. Earlier that morning, he was full of vigour and imagination, but presently he felt exhausted and starved. All at once, his surrounding made him weary. Everything reminded him of all the connections he couldn’t make, promotions he didn’t get, critics who couldn’t care less about his work and paintings he couldn’t sell.
He glanced at the canvas on his easel. Some creative doubts crossed his mind. Where was that certain acknowledgment and light that an artist and every good work must bear? An entity, one cannot explain but worth pursuing.
David Anderson went over to his painting, gave it a challenging stare, and felt like driving his fist right into the canvas. After a moment of hesitation, he rushed over to the closet to pick up his jacket. On his way out, his hands nervously felt for an object. He finally grasped a glass jar of green powder paint that he then fired against a wall. The jar shattered into a thousand pieces, setting free the contents that moved as a green cloud, slowly through the studio.
To walk was sometimes the only thing left to do. It would get him from A to B; frequently insignificant points only. Psychologists recommend walking when distressed or in despair. Today, point B was just about anywhere. After an hour and a half, he found himself downtown, in the centre of a crowded street where everyone seemed to hustle with a purpose in mind. He barely noticed how he had gotten that far.
At first, it seemed he was interested in window-shopping but his thoughts were elsewhere, until a bookstore window brought him back to the present. Avoiding his reflection on the glass, he thought of all the books he could never afford to purchase. So many editions from which to select, and it was increasingly more difficult to keep up with new publications. This made everyone’s life more interesting or confusing.
As he looked at some novels and art books, a face suddenly blocked his view, inches away, between him and the window. David backed up to give himself space, assessing the situation. He observed a man who must have been in his forties, unshaven. He wore a heavy set of eyeglasses. Behind them lay watery, blue, bewildered eyes with an unbending expression. The man, dressed in an old, black coat carried a portfolio at chest’s height that hung on a leather strap around his neck. A white cane in his right hand pointed forward. Standing there, his lips moved ever so slightly with the attempt to speak but they produced no sound.
While David made his observation, he searched in his pockets for some loose change.
“Good afternoon,” the man finally said hesitantly, refusing the offer, “it is very generous of you, sir, but although I’m a needy artist, I like to work for a living!”
“Good for you,” David replied and thought, that sentence sounded notably familiar. The other thing was, he just couldn’t figure out what part he was supposed to play by supplying work for this needy artist.
“Do you know, sir,” the man continued, “If I had my adequate eyesight, I could do something for humanity. I could entertain them.” Then He mentioned a well-known cartoonist of the past who had disappeared from the printed page a decade ago.
“Yes sir that is I. I’m glad you remember. You see, since eight years I suffer from loss of vision. Sometimes to distinguish objects is difficult. It’s worse than the sun’s eclipse. A cure? Who can tell and who knows? Sir, if you could only imagine, what it means to be a painter who has lost his vision! Is not everything form, colour and movement?”
David nodded. No argument about that. The half-blind cartoonist looked intense at David’s face.
“Sir, you have an interesting profile, if I may say so. Perhaps you could spare fifteen minutes. I would like to sketch you or else I cannot accept the change you have offered me.”
David had at first good intentions to give it straight to the man. This wasn’t the day to test his tolerance. Somehow, it was absurd. The College of Art had awarded him a prize for one of his portraits and now this half-blind cartoonist… It was incredible. However, then another voice said, are you the same guy who despises artificiality, quick judgments and smart remarks? Besides, this man with his portfolio seemed to take it up with all those dedicated musicians who work for a hand out at subway stations. For an instant, he looked at his watch, pretending he was busy but the other voice said whom are you trying to fool?
“All right,” he said to the cartoonist, “I think, I can manage to sit for a quick sketch.”
Both agreed to use a small restaurant in a side street. Entering the place, David introduced himself and the Cartoonist replied, “Very good to meet you, sir. Call me Ben.”
They sat down in a quiet corner out of the way.
“Have you eaten, Ben?”
“No, Dave, only had coffee and bread with margarine this morning.”
David ordered a hamburger and a cola for Ben and a glass of orange juice and ham sandwich for himself. Although starved, he didn’t want to eat while modelling. Nothing else was worse than a target, moving or chewing. He set himself for the pose and the half-blind artist began to draw the profile of the other artist who had his perfect vision.
While sketching, the cartoonist made some flattering compliments to establish a link between artist and model. People who came into the restaurant for an afternoon snack, were a bit puzzled by the display that is usually a private exchange. The cashier also watched, suspiciously at times.
David thought it was amusing that for once he was the model. In fact, he had given up painting portraits. One hindrance was that no paying client requested such an item. The other obstacle was in comparison to photography that is never supposed to lie, the artist in a portrait may be subjective. Thinking about those implications, suddenly something dropped to the floor. He turned sideways and noticed Ben who had covered his eyes with one hand, the other hand searched for the cola on the table. His sketchpad lay under a chair.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “it will take only a minute.” David helped him with the drink and picked up his sketchpad.
“Are you all right, Ben?”
“Oh yes, don’t worry, it happens only occasionally. I’ll be fine.”
His mouth changed into a twisted shape, perhaps caused by pain. He reached into his chest coat pocket for what looked like medication that he gulped down with the drink.
“Here is my sun’s eclipse again,” he said in a faint voice. “Trust me; I’ll be fine in a minute. You know, I have this enormous confidence in my medication. Perhaps you are too young to realize that the medical profession can only rectify your ailments so far.”
David sipped on his orange juice and took his sandwich. What could he say? However, he could have made a few comments about life’s frustrating moments on canvas any time.
Ben, with eyes half shut awkwardly finished his hamburger as well, wiped his hands with a few tissues, and then fumbled on the floor to find his sketchpad.
“Here it is, my good man,” David said, handing him the pad.
“Thank you so much, sir, I apologize. I can see it now and feel a lot better. Is it okay if I continue? I’m trying to make it quick.”
“Please, I’m glad you’re back at it.”
Before going on, Ben folded his hands over his forehead. He remained in that position for about half a minute motionless, almost breathless, before he picked up the pencil again. He seemed now totally composed, except that he worked vigorously for the duration. All that time, he kept talking into his sketch as if he had to convince himself and wave off wicked spirits. Then, at once, he stood up: I’m done. There it is. Would you like to see it?”
David rose as well, stretched his neck and arms: “Yes, I would,” he answered and took the sketch. He was curious to find out how this artist had summed up the essence of his likeness. It is true, we have a limited opinion about our own profiles, but still, the sketch had, apart from the beard, limited likeness that was not even a caricature. It was perhaps something in between. The lines appeared exercised after a pattern. They would also stop, break up, and carry on in different areas, like made without looking.
David had, as a rule a sharp tongue. He lost a few artist friends that way. He couldn’t stand obvious bad art. The half-blind cartoonist waited as if it would be ‘Judgment’s Day’. One could see that his entire existence depended on this evaluation.
“You know, I do some painting myself,” David said. He tried to sound modest.
“Now – amazingly – I could tell by the way you were modelling.”
“Really,” and against his principles a lie crept in: “I think you’ve done very well.”
The tense, unshaven face of the cartoonist eased for a few seconds, showing a contented smile, but his eyes remained watery, without expression. “It is very kind of you,” he said.
“Is that the way you make your living?” David asked.
“No, disability income is helping me out. Still, just the same, I spend six to eight hours a day in the city. I always find something to do. Sometimes I run into a buyer. Perhaps you would like to see what I have. Everything is priced low.”
He opened his portfolio and removed some small ink-wash drawings, watercolours, depicting landscapes, still life, dogs and horses.
“No, thank you, Ben.” Immediately he visualized his some fifty paintings that lay piled up in his studio with no place to go. As he reflected on stock, storage, and distribution, his eyes must have stared at a watercolour of a sailboat.
“Would you like this one?” Ben asked.
“Well, yes, no, I mean, not too bad but I’m afraid I haven’t got enough money on me to pay for it.” What a barefaced lie, his other voice said.
“If you like it, Dave, I’ll just give it to you.”
“No, I couldn’t accept . . . It must mean a lot to you. At least let me. . .” David opened his wallet and correcting himself, he added, “Sorry, forget it. I’ve just enough to pay for the tab.”
“No money, please take it! I’m grateful, sir.”
Why did people who liked his paintings have no money either? Perhaps they pretend like you, the other voice said. In addition, he reasons, a poor person can afford to praise an artist; it’s understood that he’ll never buy the work.
“I’ll tell you what; let me give you an even five.”
“If you insist, sir. God bless you! Whatever you do, I wish you luck!”
David handed his bill to the cashier, “Eighteen sixty five, please!” the cashier said. David opened his wallet and froze. All he had left was fourteen dollars. He could have sworn that he had more on him.
“Eighteen sixty-five, please!” the cashier repeated, waiting impatiently. Damn it, David said to himself. He looked at the cartoonist who waited already at the door and obviously had the five dollar bill of which he was short. However, he couldn’t resell the sailboat or ask him for the money.
“I don’t understand,” the cashier said, “people have money to buy his tasteless stuff but they can’t pay the bill . . .”
“Do you mind?” David interrupted.
“I do,” the cashier said boldly. “I’ve seen him here more than once. He has no Vendor’s License. Why don’t you take your business somewhere else?”
“We will, certainly,” David replied extremely annoyed.
“So, can you pay or what?”
David went again through all his pockets. It didn’t look good but at the end he found a wrinkled five-dollar bill in his back pocket. It was a gift from heaven. The cashier looked already at the approaching manager, as if to say: One of those; all vagrants look for the change they don’t have.
Out on the street, the half-blind cartoonist, full of gratitude shook David’s hand: “Thank you again, Dave! You made my day. Moreover, look”, he opened his arms, “fantastic, I sense more light again!” Feeling his way, by using the white walking stick along the edge of the sidewalk, he disappeared soon in the crowded street. He seemed to walk with confidence, like someone who had accomplished a mission.
David Anderson’s eyes followed him until he had disappeared from sight. It began to snow. He lit himself a cigarette, shoved one hand in his coat pocket and stuffed the two sketches in the other. Leaving in the opposite direction, he vanished between the crowds like someone who wasn’t quite sure about the expansion of his mind, about the source of creative energy. However, somehow he had to agree with the half-blind cartoonist. Equally, he also perceived now MORE LIGHT WITHIN.