Venerable Xoratio Rey is now very ill and there is no hope he will be able to live out his dream. That is why I am certain he will not resent me discussing him at this point. We all respected his work, but most of us realized too little about Xoratio’s actual labor to be able to value it in the manner it deserved. Those rare few, among whom I had great honor to be, knew that Xoratio Rey is maybe the only true artist we would ever have the fortune to meet.
Although he was born some time ago, his birth as an artist came when, as a boy of ten or twelve, he fell off a bike and broke his arm. This is an adventure he would gladly tell you about—it was the only only adventure from his life that he would tell you about, which is why those few interviews that were ever made with him are so boring. The adventure itself, however, is anything but boring.
After he broke his arm, his worried parents had taken him immediately to the local emergency room. This was Xoratio’s first encounter with a strange, mysterious, terrible, beautiful and monstrous outside world. As young prince Sidharta who stole away from the palace of his birth, came to educate himself about all the pain and suffering that are life in just one night, only to become benevolent Buddha, so did young Xoratio learn, in the emergency room, that it is possible to draw life with blood on white ceramic tiles, when a young man, injured in traffic accident, bled to death in front of him.
But the peak of that enlightening episode came when the boy Xoratio visited radiology room where a doctor, clad in heavy rubber apron, undressed Xoratio to his waist, placed his hurt arm upon cold metal table, then left the room and watched Xoratio through a window, together with the boy’s concerned parents. At that moment Xoratio experienced several different, powerful emotions.
First thing that was clear to him was that the pain is not really painful. Pain is nothing but a fruit of our expectations; product of our desires and a man free of any want is a man forever free of pain. He realized simultaneously that he himself is essentially alone, detached, bestowed with the part of the observer, recorder, which is in itself both punishment and reward for being special.
And death, death is always at an arm’s reach, like a faithful dog, death is man’s best friend, making him work, work as best as he can, and as worse as he can.
And art is a skill of transplanting life, good art produces sprouts, which are able to grow their own roots, but most of them wither and die, which is why any art mostly resembles herbarium.
Because the heart is the organ of life, but a man’s heart is equally consisted of what is within him, and what is around him.
Only, years later did those emotions take shape of thoughts, but during the course of time their intensity did not subside.
He was feeling them while, after taking the X-ray, he sat in the waiting room of the surgery ward, with a piece of black foil on which there was transparent broken bone of his left arm. Few months later, Xoratio received a blow to his head, in a skirmish on the top of the school stairs, so he again ended up in radiology room, and he felt all over same wonderful emotions, which, by his own confession, sealed his faith as an artist.
As a young man Xoratio studied art, but very early he witnessed that it is not possible to transfer that unique spark of life by conventional techniques; canvases and oil became a pleasant pass-time for idle middle-aged ladies and seasonal portraitists on the Riviera, no one chose to put pain in paint anymore, mix blood with turpentine, or mix spit with clay, or even vine, or honey, or an egg, and Xoratio looked at hundreds and hundreds of works done by old masters, but none of those moved him nearly as much as did the X-ray of his broken arm.
Then he came to his revolutionary idea, and I am not so sure it is my place to reveal it, because it is a secret, not the kind of secret someone confided to me, but more of a truth that no one dared to articulate. Xoratio leaves his art studies and with great effort starts the study of medicine. And the effort was indeed great, for it was a torture for an artistic soul to submit itself to the laws of mathematics, physics or biology, to penetrate all those hard, cold layers of science only to reach the hot, pulsating heart of art. Because, what Xoratio sought were X-rays of broken, dislocated limbs, bones disfigured by tuberculosis and cancers, vertebra eaten by osteoporosis, screws twisted deep in the marrow of life, portraits of human pain and suffering, landscapes of death.
In medical school archives he discovers pictures of children with glass bones and people with elephant heads; his first work carries that youthful desire to shock, rebellion, an invitation to a revolution, impertinent intention to confront the world to all dark depths of existence and fear; primitive, direct energy that strikes like a sledge hammer and leaves no bone in the body unbroken.
The success of his early work did not come without some consequences.
The first was that Xoratio felt ashamed of his work. He realized that instead of an artist he became a scavenger, tomb raider, pervert, and that his art was reduced to a morbid obsession, a bizarre freak show. So he abandoned medical school. Or maybe he was kicked out when his professors found out his true ambitions, along with the fact he never even passed a single exam.
But with success also came financial benefits, large enough to enable him to buy a private radiology office, along with all the equipment, and to turn it into his atelier.
That allowed the birth of the real Xoratio Rey. In the solitude of his new hiding place he picks up a ten pound hammer and with all his force crushes the bones of his own fist out which comes his brand new cycle named “Fistful of Stars”. And another success.
And it is this success that makes him, as soon as his wounds healed up, break new bones and create new work – triple fractures of both legs, simultaneous fractures of both arms and both legs, dislocation of every joint of his body, swallowing of metal balls, even an amputation of a finger – Xoratio Rey creates with intensity that shortens his life.
He keeps breaking his bones, keeps exposing himself to X-rays. What’s leading him is a vision of an improved humanity, and a plan that, after his death, all his work gets exhibited in one single museum where his original skeleton would serve as a centerpiece.
Around that time, I was finishing my treatise “On deconstruction of Color in Avant-garde Art”, all nervous, and completely out of focus, since it was the second time I had moved the dead-line for the article, which made me a victim of a constant, day and night harassment by the magazine’s editor who kept spitting his orders at me like an army general: Finish it! Do it! Then came an unexpected call from Modern Art Museum, and I could feel myself returning to the land of living and free. New opportunity lifted my spirits and filled me with vigor and pride, and I immediately discarded my essay and ran to my museum appointment. A couple of months ago I had send them a sample of my work, and I had already lost all hope of ever being noticed. Regularly, at a certain time of day, especially at dusk of a too short day, in the promise of another night with no plans, I would try to accustom myself to the thought I might never become an artist. By this mental exercise I managed to discover certain advantages of a mediocre life not dedicated to art and noble goals, even convince myself that such an everyday life, with all its panem et circenses type of everyday concerns, actually would not prove so bad. But as soon as I received the invitation to contact museum’s curator, my ambition returned fresh, with blushing cheeks of a mistress, filling my soul with deceitful kisses.
The curator turned to be a dry middle-aged little woman, with a page haircut, and an enormous golden may bug on her collar, who greeted me with just a wave of her bony hand and took me, in complete silence, to the museum’s storage area. While we walked through a cold corridor her flat heels made a squeaking noise like they were a pair of little animals, not used to be stepped on.
She then found a light switch behind a thick door she opened before me.
“Here, choose what you like from this lot!” she instructed me with a freezing voice that might belong to women’s concentration camp warden.
Just one look across the room convinced me that none of my work was to be found here, and none of it ever will.
“I followed your writing in magazines,” her purple eyes lit up with a trace of compassion, but I might have been mistaken, “all things considered, I think you would be just the man to make a selection between these works, all done by authors of your generation…find me something provocative, something new… The exhibition opens in two weeks, right after the Rey retrospective.”
Before she left me, she just added:
“I’ll be back in an hour to check up on you!”
And there, on the concrete floor were two piles of paintings, mostly oils and collages…I immediately discarded the left one. It was consisted of a dozen or so uninventive, saccharine work done by young Academy graduates, in other words, full of mathematical games, lines and clean surfaces, technically very polished, but without a trace of any soul or spirit. I recognized almost every work in the right pile. They were done mostly by the people from our crowd. All prostrate there, before me, each revealing inner most intimate emotions, most wonderful dreams, open, vulnerable—waiting for my betrayal.
The storage area was so huge I remember thinking it was a crying shame it had been left empty and deprived of use. So I started to pull out works from the right pile, and I placed them all along the walls creating an exhibition of my own. I tried to find comfort in the thought that it was just about that one exhibition; after all, what’s a little rejection to a good artist? I also, in panic, tried not to answer this question.
Finally, feeling tired and sick to my stomach, I managed to make a selection of twelve works, just a moment before Mrs. Golden May Bug showed up:
“Oh, but what’s this,” she shrieked, “This is too much, this is far too much…you missed my point completely, I’ll be needing just a couple of those, it couldn’t have been that difficult!”
I must have given her no sign of comprehension, for she herself went to that right pile, and without any doubt picked out two collages:
“This will do!” she concluded and placed them on the left, inferior pile.
“But why do you want to mix them up?” I was troubled and utterly confused.
“Why, these are the works for the exhibition, you only had to add a few more,” her hair danced impatiently, “I’m surprised at you, one would think, considering you are well-versed in these matters, you’ll be able to recognize the work of young Miss Valentine…”
“…daughter of the Minister of Culture,” I felt a sudden surge of nausea, “and this one is by the son of the renowned painter, Mister M…”
I just could not stand it anymore; I just bolted out of there. I decided I needed a drink, so I dropped anchor at the first bar terrace, it happened to be a place where the tables were scattered around all over the sidewalk. I drank my first beer in a single gulp, and just as I was beginning to feel the sickness oozing out of me in drops of heavy sweat, something hit the chair I was sitting on.
I turned annoyed—a little fight would be just what the doctor prescribed.
“Pardon me, please, excuse me!” uttered the man in the wheel chair trying to wheel himself out of a stalemate.
My rage melted in an instant, I stood up clearing the way for him.
As I stood there waiting for him to move, I took a better look at his face. Pale yellow skin, heavy rings under the eyes, thin, messy hair…it was..
For a moment it seemed he resented me recognizing him, he squeezed out a courteous smile with great pain and effort, but accepted my invitation for a drink. And when the waiter arrived with a glass of plain lemonade, red and white stripped straw sticking out of it, Xoratio appeared somewhat more alive. He inquired about my career. I congratulated him on the forthcoming retrospective.
But he just waved his hand at it, moved closer to the glass, bit the straw, and started sucking his drink. He drank it all to the bottom until the air produced that gargling noise.
“It’s not good; it’s not good at all. I’m afraid for my work,” his voice revealing utter depression. I observed his undernourished little body, all coiled up in wheel chair, and he just rolled his eyes timidly trying to detect if someone was listening in on our conversation, before he added:
“My bones don’t obey me anymore,” he just said and then he watched me for a moment studying my reaction.
“I know, I know, you’ll say it was only to be expected…” I detected a trace of irony in his smile, “and maybe you’ll be right…You see I’m bound to this goddamn chair. And my bones don’t coalesce anymore, they only break more easily…”
He let out a weary sigh.
“There’s no more pain, just a gaping wound, the state of constant decay…”
His lips spread in a sort of a smile:
“I’m changing my physical condition, from solid to liquid, like a comic book hero. I’m the Rubber Man, elusive, elastic, acrobat, nothing can hold me down anymore…” he paused, then continued as if it were some sort of a jest, “Do you ask yourself if you could have made different choices in life?”
I shrug in surrender—after all, everybody wonders what would become of them if they were born in a different city and why they never learned to drive a locomotive?
“I really hate myself sometimes,” he whispered, “I’m simply not even able to think about any other possibility in my life. I’m so limited! Can you imagine, I have never regretted being me! Ever! Can you imagine how stupid I am?! Just like a horse put to a carriage, with blind caps on my eyes, able to se only one way, only one path…Silly, aren’t I?”
But before I could answer that, a tall, chubby young man joined us, and Rey introduced him to me as his assistant. The boy didn’t want anything to drink, so I bid them both farewell, and watched them as they went down the street; young man’s broad shoulders leaning as he pushed along the wheel-chair, until they disappeared in the crowd. Young man and the invisible man.
The next few days I spent in one of my twilight moods searching for my evening star to show me the way from day to night. And as if my life hasn’t been complicated enough, I had found not one, but two stars, two warm, seductive, possessive Venuses. At dawn I would fled from one, only to run to the other in my lunch break. And my famous stews and seafood salads were my ransom. Which made them both deliciously round, but also made considerable strain on my lower abdomen. Both of them were emancipated enough to find it a pleasant change, this carnival exchange of masks, as well as a source of additional excitement. In short, they wore me down to the very limits of my stamina. I was their toy, in velvet bathrobe, in two shifts, without any hope of relief.
Now and then I would manage to get some of our old gang for a drink, but mostly I kept to myself. There was no news to share. We all hid in our bedrooms and studios. Nothing worth of interest, except pieces of usual gossip and information about new therapists in town. Rey was the only one who managed to challenge our imagination. Somebody, and that somebody was an utterly unreliable colleague of ours, who had heard the whole story from somebody else whom we all knew as a person susceptible to weekend acid trips, well that first somebody told us a story that the other somebody witnessed Xoratio Rey being run over by an automobile. We argued that none of this was ever in the papers, and Rey had just opened an exhibition in Amsterdam, but this somebody explained that Rey wasn’t hurt in the accident at all. The story was that the car had hit him at the moment he was wheeling himself over a street. There was some sudden braking, and some people screaming, the chair flew through the air, and the car drove straight across Xoratio’s body. The lady driver, after managing to stop the vehicle some fifty meters down the road, came out crying and immediately ran to the victim. And there laid old Rey, on the asphalt, as if he was smeared on it with a butter knife, like melted clay, or a paint spill. Lady screamed and made sign of a cross over her breasts, but then Rey’s voice was heard, and he was pretty angry as well:
“How could you be so careless, haven’t you notice the speed limit! Oh, c’mon, c’mon, there’s no point in crying now, just get the chair and pick me up.”
Unbelievable, our witness was totally amazed, run down Ray soon found himself in his chair, wheeling back to his house. I tell you, as if he was made of rubber!
After that my life continued to drag along like a sleepy Sunday afternoon. In the meantime I finished my essay, and even received a handsome fee for it. But my Venuses have had enough of me, and, they have said, the seafood was of poor quality too, so I wounded up on the street again, like a scorned harlot. And who knows what would my end be like, if it weren’t for her, my little girl with matches, my good fairy, my little mermaid. Eight months after we have met, she dragged me into town hall where I had sworn her my everlasting obedience. As I nodded the “I do”, she placed my hand on her most obvious stomach from which came a light, but unmistakable karate-kick. I knew then it would not be easy from there on. But the strangest thing was I didn’t want to have it easy, ever again.
Only three days after the world became forever a better place for me, I received sad news. Xoratio Rey had died. Silently, peacefully, and in the manner in which he lived.
For the first time after I had ran from there in panic, I visited the Modern Art Museum which decided to repeat Rey retrospective complete with his last few works. The place was packed, as I could have imagined. People, they like burying other people, especially burying artists. It gives them a sense of final victory and a confirmation that they had chosen the right path, which, in any case leads to a few meals and few mornings with hangover more.
I was sad. Out of totally black X-ray shots, which revealed absolutely nothing, I could almost feel Rey’s penetrating eyes watching me. And I knew, as soon as I stepped in the first exhibition hall that his dream was not realized, and when I scanned the whole show I realised that his skeleton was not there, and it will never be.
Only the museum lights reflected on the surface of the completely dark last few X-ray foils, confusing the visitors, from time to time.