TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 1987

A CANVAS OF EPISODES

Mazel tov.

How many artists get a chance? How many today can afford a loft downtown (I’m not talking buying, just rental)? How many get a group show, let alone a gallery? How many ever get noticed?

So what if Rex, our protagonist of these ten months, hit a roadblock or a hundred; so what if his paintings had been frozen in a Siberia of legalisms—didn’t his work get seen, get hated and loved while the works of countless fellow artists stayed racked in their studios, dying for someone to look at them? Measured by the experience of most artists, Rex has indeed been fortunate. It would seem he had an open road ahead of him, though who can predict in life and in art what lies ahead? For the moment, let’s say that Rex’s victory is that he is still here, that he has managed still to be around in the land of high risks. It would be a good moment to take leave of him, right now when his chart is still unfixed, his course open. We could, then, leave Rex here, recently returned from the intoxicating events of the Chicago Art Fair—for what headier brew is there than the first sip of success?—ready for another first, his first summer in the city. Summer is the best (and sexiest) time in New York for the newcomer, that time when all the seasoned veterans of too many New York summers flee the seemingly endless months of unbearable heat and humidity, steamy air, and smelly streets, subletting it all and broiling themselves anyway over the flames of their own choice, each in their own way, only out of town. When sailors steam off we say our goodbyes, and even wandering nomads get an au revoir or two as they ride to the blank horizon, so why not an adios and a farewell to Rex as we leave him at his landing (metaphoric as well as literal) at the beginning of a New York summer? Now that he’s at his door, bag of supplies from Canal Street in his arms, and he’s turning the key in the lock, it is as good a moment as any for us to turn from Rex as well. But no. We can’t leave him just yet. Rex, close the door so we can spend a few more moments in your world.

A letter slides under the door. It’s a letter from Alma—a confession, an apology, and a pledge of love, written and signed by that hand Rex had longed to hold. Yes she had stolen his art, yes she was remorseful, and yes she loved him more intensely than ever, and forever. Would he, after all that had passed, agree to meet her—anywhere and at any time, day or night? On second thought, she continued, why prolong her suffering? She would wait for him that very evening at seven by the doorway of the Noho Star and if he didn’t show, she would more than understand. Who has not waited for such a letter at least once? And how many of us have not dreamed of the joy of having the chance to spurn so abject a plea from the one who has poisoned our heart—not to speak of the reception for Rex’s art? He pockets the letter with a try at casualness, as if it were, say, a Con Edison bill (first notice). He comes off as a paragon of autonomy to his audience—himself—until 6:45, when he washes his face and walks to the end of this story.

From a distance Alma seems slightly smaller. And close up she does too. As their eyebeams mesh in a mutual weave of love, Rex almost snaps, for it is Alma and it isn’t Alma. In fact, it’s her twin sister, Anima, an impassioned curator at the Institute of Forgeries, who had once before avidly pursued Rex via the mail.1 Anima takes the reins before Rex can rush away in shock at her duplicity (didn’t those sisters ever stop their tricks?), and she holds them long enough to tell her story. The two women, it turns out, have had a copy complex ever since they were children. As they grew older, Alma repressed hers, keeping the Xerox urge in check until she met Rex, when, under the pressure of romantic love’s merging of two souls into one, she identified so completely with her beloved that the urge aggressed against her superego and went berserk. Which is how she ended up with a sold-out show of plagiarized paintings, a show-stopping courtroom trial, and—bringing us up to date—her current no-show routine here in front of the Noho Star. Anima, fortunately, had channeled her identical proclivities in a constructive direction by finding her psychological and professional niche in the Institute of Forgeries, where as a scholar of copies she could indulge her instincts within the strict letter of the law (aside from the minor infraction of forging the letter to Rex using Alma’s name).

How lucky for Rex to find in Anima the perfect form of his love without the residue of the unhappiness it had brought him, and how fortunate for Anima to take advantage of her complex by copying Alma in her attraction to Rex. In short, theirs being the generation that converts love into licenses, they marry, each mimicking the vow made by the other.

Now, then, it is time to bid adieu to Rex and Anima and to say a few last words to both: keep out of courtrooms, let your work be your case, and don’t go to dinner parties where you are the meal. So long—we wish you well.

Frederic Tuten is a writer of fiction. He is a professor and the director of the graduate program in English and creative writing at the City College of New York. This is the last chapter of “A Canvas of Episodes.”

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NOTE

1. See “A Canvas of Episodes,” Chapter 8 (“Twist and Shout”), April 1987.