My Good Pal Blake
Setting up our displays of paintings and drawings (or drawerings, as Blake pronounced the word) took little time for either of us to do. the remainder of the day we stayed close by to answer questions from potential buyers. we also drank lots of coffee while we waited.
A never-ending parade of people flowed past us throughout the day. He stood next to me, watching the crowd with a mock look of arrogance, calculated to show himself as the consummate artiste.
Most all of the craftsmen present were members of our local art guild, and the majority of them had a fair amount of talent. All of us regularly entered art shows in and around the Washington, D.C. beltway, offering our recent works for sale.
Blake specialized in realistic Maine seascapes of fishing shacks and lobster pots, aging docks or sailing ships, all meticulously done in shades of blues and grays. His work had a photographic quality about it.
I leaned more toward the Chesapeake Bay area for my inspiration, depicting fishing villages, aging docks and working boats, which I rendered loosely in earth tones of browns and greens.
The two of us competed constantly with each other, both in our basement studios and at exhibitions.
We had met by chance a few years ago in this same spot.
I recall catching a glimpse of his artwork for the first time from a distance, and made a mental note then not to get too close with my meager entries. I didn’t need his level of competition, I decided, so I found a far-away place to hang my art at the opposite end of the concourse.
Sometime during that day, a stocky fellow stopped at my exhibit. He then stood and scowled at my largest painting hanging there, which depicted three men carrying rifles and cresting a hill.
At the bottom of the frame I had tacked a brass plate inscribed, “The Hunters”. Below the title was my name and the date.
The man leaned closer to read the words, and then he stood up straight and snorted once before sneering at me.
Then came the critique.
“That’s fine work you have there, but get rid of the brass plate. Leave that fancy crap to the museums, after you are dead and gone.”
His remarks stung. But I knew that he was right about that brass plate.
And when he held out his hand to introduce himself as the artist down the way who did the blue-gray seascapes, I knew I had met a trusted ally in the world of art I had recently entered into.
So here he and I now stood together, studying the movements of the crowd as they flowed past us.
An older couple with a young woman paused to view my display. Blake nudged me with his elbow and we quietly watched them.
My large framed canvas didn’t interest the younger lady at all, but four smaller paintings caught her attention. Each one portrayed a single row boat, tethered to a weathered stake. Faint reflections appeared to waver slightly below each craft.
These little paintings sold very well and for under a hundred dollars apiece.
The girl stood back and tilted her head slightly. Then she placed a hand upon her hip. With her other hand, she curled an index finger under her chin as she studied my work carefully.
Blake and I both read the outcome completely wrong; this woman was almost ready to buy something, we both thought.
The older gentleman and and his companion stayed close by while whispering comments to one another. My pal and I acted casual and uninterested. Let the customer come to you, we always said.
Without noticing either of us, the young lady spoke.
“Can you tell, mother, how this artist feels that he is going nowhere in life? That he is, in a sense, adrift and without purpose? See?"
And her hand swept the air, gesturing at the four paintings.
"Notice the absence of oars in any of these boats. It's so obvious.”
Blake already had his arms folded. Then he coughed loud enough to make the threesome’s heads turn our way.
“Lady,” he began loudly.
I took a sip of my coffee.
And then he sniffed derisively.
“You leave oars in your boat, people will steal it.”