Rich hates Cubism
(originally posted 6/4/2012)
Rich moved ever so slightly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other almost imperceptibly. Like he had done countless times before he stood transfixed in front of the painting. Gazing upon it as though lost in another time. It was the only reason he ever wandered into the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection section of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ironically he couldn’t stand Cubism and yet here he stood transfixed in front of a piece from none other than Pablo Picasso. It was a common misconception that the mysterious figure seemingly painted underneath The Old Guitarist is a representation of the guitarist as a younger man. For years Rich labored under that delusion and, although it brought a boatload of its own poignancy, it paled to the meaning it gave him when he learned the ghostly figure in the painting was actually a female.
Outside spring was in full bloom and the wind off Lake Michigan was sweeping the old scents of the city away and replacing them with a fresher version of buildings and cars and trees. Inside the struggle went on inside his head.
He used to be a musician. He would cradle the guitar like a lover and make it bring forth things that his voice could not. Things he often didn’t even know were there to be brought out. Now his fingers felt thick and clumsy when he picked one up. Whatever spark there once was had fled. He tried to understand. The violent ups and downs of youth, the drama and passions, the turmoil and pain had long ago been replaced with calm and comfort. The lines in the corners of his eyes, that would once scamper away with the light like so many roaches, now brazenly hung around for anyone who bothered to look close. Rebellious laughter and heartbroken tears had given way to smiles and frowns and the first brave grey pube had come uninvited to join the company of unwanted hair sprouting from his ears and nose. His guitar, his greatest ally in the past, was now nothing more than some vague former cohort that he would pass on the street with barely a backwards glance. Rich no longer dreamt of playing the minstrel to crowds clamoring for his song. Such daydreams were like the dead brown leaves that even now were being drawn out from their winter hiding places and blown into nothingness by the eager breezes of a new season. Nobody wanted to hear from a dead brown leaf.
Picasso had painted The Old Guitarist during his Blue Period after the suicide death of a close friend. Try as he might to come up with some poetic explanation for the ghostly presence of the female in the background Rich couldn’t help but believe that it was just a mistake that Picasso had tried to cover up. This was also the way he felt about the females that he still carried around with him. For the longest time he thought the transformative power of the painting would bring him a girl named Rose to help him move to his new “period” but she failed to materialize. The thin figure in the painting was supposed to be blind. Rich didn’t see it for the longest time. He was never much for delving into the forms or themes of artwork, the monochromatic palette was lost on him. He realized that maybe this was true for more than art.
He sighed. He shifted his weight again. Was she or wasn’t she a mistake? If not a mistake, then what? He unfolded the paper containing the poem he had copied from some book long ago and, like he had done so many times before standing in this exact spot, read it to himself. The Man With the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens.
The man bent over his guitar, A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, “You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
And they said then, “But play, you must, A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar Of things exactly as they are.”
Was she or wasn’t she? He sighed and returned his attention back to the painting.