Tag Archives: Creative writing

If landscapes could talk back to artists

Great landscapes are as much about the personality of the land they represent as portraits of people. I thought, perhaps, if the land portrayed had a voice and could talk back to the artist, it might be an interesting dialogue, as in a play. Playwriting. I have not done it before and this is exactly what the Weekly Writing Challenge is about.

So.

Dramatis personae

The Artist

The Voice of the Town (The Voice)

The Artist stands in the centre of the stage with city views projected in random order on three screens shaped like a diamond around him. Each new photo lights up when the previous one goes dark. The views are accompanied by relevant sounds (church bells, traffic, people talking, etc.) The artist is dressed for a field trip with his gear hanging off his shoulder.

As the photo-show progresses, the voice of the town tells its story.

The Voice of the Town (The Voice): I am a hundred miles away from Moscow, to the South-East, and for hundreds of years I was at the frontier, fighting off Tatar nomads while Czars in Moscow were building the state that is now known as Russia. I am as old as Moscow, a bit over 850 years old, that is. In-between the wars, I was leading the quiet life of a provincial town. Well, there was that wife of the Prince who threw herself from a tower as she didn’t want to be captured by the Mongols, but I am not sure it wasn’t an accident. Oh, the first Russian battleship was built there. I’ve got no seas around here, but they somehow pulled it all the way to one of the big ponds using small and big rivers as roads. I have been crumbling, and I have been restored again. I am not exactly looking old as new, but some churches get a new paint job, the old Castle gets a facelift, and I still have a few tourists coming in each year.

Suddenly, when the image of an arched gallery appears, the Artist says “That’s’ the place!” and starts unpacking and unfolding his easel. The image stays on the screen.

He starts drawing and we see this pastel gradually emerging on the white screen behind and above him:

When the drawing is over, the artist’s mobile goes off, he puts it on loudspeaker, because his hands are still busy doing some final touches on the drawing.

The Voice: What is this? What season is this? What…

The Artist: Winter. You’re not a summer vacation spot. You’re more of a winter character. You had a difficult life in your 900 years as a small town and you weathered it out. Well done. I want to show that you are still alive and kicking. See these people at the back walking by the wall? I put them there to show that life goes on regardless of anything. There’s still some purpose behind your not being a forgotten ruin. I don’t want to offend you, but there’s a lot in you that looks like a ruin.

The Voice: Why is then the snow green? Is this an ecologic disaster? I don’t have any factories around here, just agriculture. Very primitive agriculture, I have to admit.

The Artist: I could say I see you this way, but no, it’s green because the sky is blue.

The Voice: You’re are barmy. And not because you talk to a town’s spirit.

The Artist: ha-ha-ha. The street lights paint the snow yellow. The deep blue skies reflect in the yellow snow and – bang! – it becomes green. You are a small town that has always been one with nature. That’s the way to show it. And the red of the wall separates the blue and green right in the middle, like blood running through a body! Plus, it’s the basics of the colour wheel. That’s to show your vitality, my provincial friend.

The Voice: I’d say looking at the colour wheel I need some orange.

The Artist: Oh, no, you don’t have enough energy in you, not enough optimism. No, you’re not getting any orange. I’ve even made the red cold, because the brick wall is as frozen as those people who trudge below.

The Voice: You might be right on this. But why is everything so… curved? When I see myself in the mirror I see mostly straight lines, not the oceanic waves you painted.

The Artist: Have you seen airplanes flying above you?

The Voice: that’s the only entertainment I get during cold nights when all the yobs are scared off by the frost! But how are planes relevant?

The Artist: Airplanes fly along beelines from point A to point B, but when you project those routes on a flat page of an inflight magazine, these routes turn into curves. I take your straight lines and linear perspective and project them onto your curved history.

When I was drawing the red-brick wall I thought it had seen Russians, Mongols, and Poles scaling it, fighting each other to hold on to it, dying on I, and on both sides of it. And often it was Russians against Russians. This is no straight wall at all. It is like portraying a soldier with deep scars on his body from past fights. I’d have to show the scars even if they are covered by his clothes.

The Voice: My scars have been healed, repainted and rebuilt. I’ve not seen a war in the last 70 years! You can see scars on the body of a soldier, but you can’t see them on me.

The Artist: But I can. I can even if I don’t want it. Shall we paint more of you, if you are not scared to be seen as what you really are?

IMPORTANT: Did you like the play dialogue? Do you want to see more of the town and how the Artist thought it really looked like? Let me know what you think of this form: landscape talking back to the artist. I need to know whether it is a form interesting to develop. If you want to know more about this particular artist, click on the tag “Sevostianov” at the bottom, it will get you to the right posts.

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BRIBING THE DEMONS

‘Hello, Luke! I feel the power is strong in you, fly boy.’

Luke just landed on a cloud. He shaped a white fluffy chair out of it with a few Jedi-like gestures before replying.

‘You know, Peter,’ said St.Luke, making himself comfortable in his cloudy chaise longue, ‘this joke begins getting on my nerves. I’ve arranged for five more Star Wars movies to be filmed, but you stick to the 1977 line. That’s not fair’.

‘Life’s not fair,’ said St.Peter with a wink. ‘That’s what I keep telling people who knock on the Gate. Speaking of which, I need to ask you something, as, you know, the guardian angel of artists.’

‘It is the patron saint, Peter, not a guardian angel. Any more jokes you’d like to share now? ‘Cause I am truly busy, my drawing class begins in a minute, and I had to smuggle a truckload of Coke to bribe the demons to have Michelangelo out of Hell for 30 minutes to head it. I can’t have it wasted.’

‘Luke, do you remember why I sent Michelangelo down to Hell in the first place?’

‘He killed someone, didn’t he?’

‘Oh, no. It was Michelangelo Merisi, or Caravaggio, who did. Your Michelangelo almost killed a few sensitive ladies with his foul smell (and we made sure the demon that convinced him bathing was bad for health never left Hell or Mongolian steppes again), but we don’t send souls to Hell for trying. It was Pride. He wanted to create art that would live forever, banish death and make him equal to God. We’ve been sending ambitious people down since the Tower of Babel. Man ain’t no God, Luke. So, can you put away your painterly ambitions for a moment? It’s important.’

St.Luke watched St.Peter with the hopelessness of a shored-up whale that wanted to climb out to evolve but helpful people were pushing it back to the ocean again.

‘Peter,’ he said, ‘what art advice do you want from me then? Shoot it out.’

‘Oh, thank you, Luke. There’s that case of Malevich on my doorstep right now. He’s been in Purgatory since 1935 and now is the time…’

‘I thought Malevich was a Jew and we stopped handling Jews two thousand years ago, didn’t we?’ murmured St.Luke.

‘Who the heck is the patron saint of artists?’ Peter sounded sincerely surprised, ‘Malevich was Polish. Catholic Polish.’

‘Oh’

‘So I need to know if Malevich qualifies as a creator of Great Art, to decide what to do with him’.

‘Yes, he does, even if it sends him to Hell. He did the Black Square, and that is a great piece of great art alone’.

blacksquare

‘Luke, a kid could do it. I could do it on my iPad in seconds’.

‘Peter, you couldn’t. It is not a square actually. None of the sides of the black box is parallel to the opposite side or to any of the picture sides. There’s no black paint either. It is a mixture of colours that produces something your brain interprets as black.’

‘Why is it called the Black Square then?!’

‘Because people see it as a black square even though it is neither square nor black!’, said St.Luke in desperation.

‘Yeah, I got that far, but I still miss the point of this, hmm, mystification’.

‘Malevich created a dynamic and living symbol out of something that looks as a solid, fixed, unmoving and unmovable object’.

‘Why would he do it, if all you can see is just a black square?’

‘Oh, but here is the trick. People with poor imagination see a black square, but connoisseurs thinking outside the box can see a multi-coloured cube in this painting.’

‘Luke, your connoisseurs thinking outside the box are usually the ones whose thinking inside the box is best described by a diagnosis that makes it impossible for them to get a driving license’.

‘Peter, do you remember the times when veils were all the rage among women?’

‘Sure I do – I am still getting a few fresh souls a week who keep blinking and murmuring, “oh, now I know what’s behind the veil”.

‘Well, think of this black square as a veil. People who are curious enough to see behind it, would see white behind black, life behind death, volume behind flatness. They would be the ones to whom universe secrets are revealed’

‘Luke, I tell you what. I don’t think this is great art, I think this is – as you said – a trick. As he’s not a great artist, the Tower of Babel precedent doesn’t work. Magicians are welcome here as long as they stick to tricks and stay away from real magic. So, he gets transferred to Paradise this very moment!’

‘Oh,’ said St.Luke, ‘Thank you! I think this is the right thing to do, even though I strongly disagree with you on his greatness.’

‘Luke, you can have Malevich now as your teacher, class leader, or course director. No more sinful Coke smuggling! I’ll be sending Michelangelo back then, I assume?’

There was that awkward moment of silence when the clapping of hands is expected but no one cheers up.

St.Luke was whipping up his cloud chair into a growing Rococo sofa.

St.Peter wouldn’t leave.

Blast.

St.Luke, finally, looked up, “I’ll stick to Michelangelo, Peter, thank you.’

The Rococo sofa collapsed back into a chair of reasonable proportion.

‘And, Peter, next time a conceptual contemporary artist turns up, just let them in.’

‘So, no Babel Tower discussions for the next 50 years, flyboy?’, said St.Peter with mock disappointment.

‘No, and there’s a new Star Wars movie in the making. I hope you get to pick up another line!’

**********************

It’s the Weekly Writing Prompt that asked for a dialogue bringing to life the blog’s topic that made me write it. There are about 10 other points I could make to support Malevich greatness, but I decided to save them for later. Luke didn’t want to miss his lesson.