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I am so sick of people asking me for an explanation. People can’t seem to wrap their minds around creativity – my genius. Even after I explained myself. He knew I was a genius. You can’t explain genius to someone who isn’t one; that’s what I have learned in the past few weeks. I’m an artist. And I was great. More than great. People understood that once. I thought I just had to make them understand again. A new series of works. Better than before. I just needed a new source of inspiration as I had drained the one that originally gotten me my notability. Pure genius is seen as a myth, and I want to go down in legend. But even now, all I can think about is that he thought I was great, that I was worth something.
Addy was running late. Only just, but still late. He hated waiting. No way could she disappoint him before he even saw her work. You needed to do the best, to be the best, to stay in the warm glow of his appraisal. She walked into the studio space to see him facing her new collection, hands on hips. Not a good sign.
“This? This is boring. Addy, come on!”. Addy’s face visibly tensed as Gram Ruther continued his critique.
“I refuse to believe this is what you have been working on for the past three months. It’s my reputation on the line for God’s sake! I put my neck out for you, and I was promised something inspired. This? This is nothing more than hotel art. Where is the emotion? Where is the message?”
Addy stood looking at her eight artworks, picking at the skin around her nails. She looked at the paintings which up until one minute ago she thought signified achieving peace, reaching closure. It was soft and serene. Calming swipes of pink and yellow, almost like a sunrise. Now all she saw were pale colours on a canvas. No structure. She felt nothing to it now.
“Your last series was bloody genius. You captured such a raw pain. It moved people. I can’t put this in the exhibition. This won’t sell. I have promised a show of some real emotion, something to move the audience. This will make them fucking yawn!”, Gram continued his chastisement.
Her last series was a known success. It was inspired. And Gram helped her so much. He was her mentor. He got in contact with so many galleries, trying to help others see what he saw in her. He showered her with praise and attention. They spent many late nights discussing ideas, talking about the most secret, personal parts of their lives. When her collection was exhibited, he took her to parties with people in the art scene, all of whom said she was the most inspired artist on the scene in that moment. Before him she was frankly, depressed. No-one had ever thought of her in such high regard. And he saw her pain and told her to harness it. But then came Ella Mitchell and her collection. Suddenly Addy had to listen to him gush over another artist. “She’s the next big thing” he would say. And every time he would even mention her it would feel like a knife in her heart. This was meant to be her chance to show him that she was more than Ella.
“I admit, I wasn’t in the same head space when I made these, but I thought that was a good thing… You know how bad I was. I was miserable. I wanted to make something that showed I made it through”, Addy said as she looked at the floor. Confrontation was not her strong suit. She wanted him to be proud of her for getting better. She thought he would be, so what was wrong?
“People want to see pain in a beautiful way, they want to feel, Addy. Like you made me feel. That emotion, that torment. Make them feel or you won’t be shown in the exhibition. You’ll just be another washed up artist who was once worth mentioning.”
The white, empty walls of the gallery started to feel like they were closing in on Addy, slowly moving in until the stress weighed on her chest. Her, a failure? Her breathing became heavier and heavier until was essentially panting, hand on her heart only to feel the too quick thumps.
Addy’s studio was a mess of canvas, sheets, and coloured paint everywhere. The sketches and plans from her series which she had thought so brilliant were scattered over the walls, a jumble of charcoal lines and coloured sticky notes. Where the fuck was she meant to find inspiration on such short notice? Her last series was created after the worst experience of her life, the worst pain she’d ever felt. But she made something great. Genius. She needed to feel that way again. She needed to show an emotional brutality that would solidify her as a creator of masterpieces.
She tore around her studio in a blur, ripping her sketches of the wall, knocking canvases over in a rage. The smell of stale Chinese takeout lingered from the many empty boxes she hadn’t been bothered to throw out yet. There was a trail of ants swimming in the sticky sauce. She was great. She is great. Hot tears hit her cheeks as she progressed, her breathing became heavy and before she knew it her studio was a wreck. It was dark out now and Addy was feeling the anxiety at her possible failure grip her heart with iron hands. The only light was coming from the last remnants of her lily scented candle, the flickering light dancing across the walls. She picked up an easel she had thrown to the floor and found a canvas, white staring back at her, challenging her to just say how she felt, to say anything that meant something. An old cup of coffee that was on the floor fell and smashed, the dark liquid staining the sheets on the floor. More mess. “Fucking hell!”
Tubes of paint with coloured cracks dared her to use them. The feeling of overwhelm started to show in her eyes, small glistening tears filling her tear ducts and she took a breath, letting this feeling brew until she could no longer take it. Without even thinking she grabbed her brush, bristles astray due to neglect, and she put paint to canvas. With each aggressive stroke, with each colour, her emotions started to ebb away, transferring onto the canvas in front of her. Blue, black, a jumble of brown from the colours mixing in her palette – chaos. She wasn’t controlling her hand at all. It was just happening, a trance that encapsulated her wholly. What looked back at her was anger, frustration. Failure. Her hands clenched at her hair, pulling until it hurt. She shoved both canvas an easel to the floor, hitting it, tearing at it, until all that remained was remnants of black and blue shreds.
I knew that I needed to be bad again. Gram basically told me as much. He wanted me vulnerable so he could harness me. So I did. Gram has suggested previously that medication was a scam to keep people placid, so I stopped taking mine because it was surely the reason I was creating shit. It was that fucking psychiatrist’s fault that my works were turning out this way. Miserable, I was great. A genius. A prodigy. I’m not crazy thinking that my pain made me great. He cared when I was in pain. And I needed him to help inspire me. Think of Degas, Van Gogh, Rothko. All depressed but brilliant. Crazy but inspired. I began craving inspiration, but that meant I needed to be in a bad state of mind, and that is when things took a turn.
The phone rang for almost twenty-seconds before the line connected. “Addy its late”. Gram’s voice was groggy. He had clearly been in a deep sleep. His voice made her feel warm. She needed to hear more of it.
“I’m really not doing well”.
She waited for a reply. Instead all she got was a long sigh.
“Gram, I need yo…”
“Addy stop. I’ve talked to you about this. If you’re like this work through it with your art. That’s when you’re brilliant. When you call to complain its frankly fucking annoying. Show me you’re trying here”.
Her hand started to tremble as she held the phone. How could he not want to be here for her right now.
“But you said you would be here for me. That if I needed you, I would get you”.
“That was more for work related things. Look, its late. I’m tired. I cant deal with you being hysterical right now. Make some great art and make me proud kiddo. Now sleep. And talk to a therapist. Dealing with you like this isn’t my job”.
The line disconnected. Her breathing became heavy, frantic. He didn’t care about her. He cared about her work. Why the fuck was he playing at this? And kiddo? He was only fifteen years older. She was twenty-four. An adult. Why wouldn’t he see her as one now?
No one had heard from Addy for days. She had locked herself in the studio. No noise was heard the whole time she was there, but the smell of methylated spirits and turpentine seeped out. It was Joan who found her, chasing her u for a progress report.
“Addy?”, he spoke into the crack in the door frame as she knocked. No response.
“You haven’t replied to a single message. This is extremely unprofessional”.
After knocking for a few more seconds he tried the door and it opened. “Addy? Is something wrong? Why won’t you open the door?”
The smell of chemicals worsened, and the studio was in complete disarray. Canvases were ripped up and torn. A bottle of turps was on its side, liquid pooling out like and oil spill, covering the sheets and tiled floor. Dark paints had been dragged along the walls, like someone had tried to claw their way through the walls and the lights in the ceiling had been smashed leaving shards of glass all over the floor. The wooden desk had an assortment of pills and cigarette butts strewn over it. A large painting was propped against the desk chair. A painting that showed a raw and real suffering. Abstracted strokes, jagged and broken. It was inspired. Moving.
“It’s brilliant”, he muttered, awe struck.
But what took Gram aback the most was the crumpled body of Addy on the floor in the far corner of the room by the window, laying in spilt cans of paint.
Since the ambulance was called, I have been here. Two weeks. It’s been very routine here. The other women in here are so dull. They are all in for drug problems or suicide attempts, and none of them like talking about it, which is annoying because I need their bland stories for some entertainment in here. The days go by in a mush of beige walls, beige food, and beige people. No one is a match for my calibre here. I get checked up on constantly. My therapist is this woman called Marge, she’s nice, but she keeps wanting to talk about my triggers. She apparently seems to think that Gram is one. But I am fine. Seriously. Better than fine. Gram did some string pulling and got my work in a major exhibition. I didn’t have a whole series, but the reviews were phenomenal. ‘Addy Johnson creates an awe-inspiring depiction of what it is to be human in a feat of what can only be described as genius’. Guess who said that; none other than one of the most successful curators in the city! People knew my name, they knew my art. I made it. It was all worth it end up here with that result. With the knowledge that I was beyond great. Not everyone can do what a genius can. Gram came to visit me after the exhibition was done. He talked about how there are buyers extremely interested in my work and how he would love to become a sort of manager for me – you know, get me into contact with other galleries and buyers, he even thinks I could be in demand enough to charge ‘and arm and a leg’ for commissioned pieces. He also said he misses me. He asked about what was being said in my therapy sessions. He actually went on about it a lot. I told him. He thinks Marge is a jealous cow who doesn’t want to see me happy. He was being sweet. It was tender. But in the way that a bruise is tender. I kept asking about what will happen with us when I get out, and he says that I should focus on my art and it will make him extremely happy. All I want is to make him happy.