There once was an artist named Pol. He lived in a big warehouse in the middle of the city, and even though no one really knew where he came from, people had all sorts of ideas. Some said he came from Scandinavia; others that he came from the countryside. Some even believed that he’d grown up in art studios, traveling the world and studying with a different artist each year as he grew older. It didn’t really matter where he came from, though. Everyone agreed: Pol was a visionary.
Pol was a tall, thin man with a little blonde goatee. He didn’t speak. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t even eat, at least as far as anyone had seen. Pol was a man who kept to himself. He always sported the same white coat — not a lab coat, but a long, velvety one with five gold buttons, the kind of buttons you see on pea-coats. He always carried a matching white cane, too, with a handle shaped like a bat, its furry little body enameled in gold-leaf.
No one knew what his eyes looked like. They were always hidden, even at night, beneath a pair of sunglasses with little, black rectangles for lenses — like a pair of goat’s pupils turned sideways. They were just as unreadable, just as impenetrable, too. In fact, Pol seemed to make a point of being unreadable, keeping to himself whenever he could.
“I hear the reason he never takes his glasses off,” said the man with the monocle, “is because he’s deaf, but he idolizes Helen Keller and dreams of being blind as well.”
“I hear he doesn’t speak,” said the woman in the mink, fingering its limp paws, “because he was kicked in the head by a horse at a young age, and hasn’t said a word ever since.”
“I hear he keeps to himself,” said the man in the top-hat, desperate to keep up, “because he was once caught snogging a pine cone and spends his free time indulging in strange, botanical forms of eroticism.”
“Artists can be eccentric.”
Pol’s first exhibition was a hit. After the opening night (a bit slow), it was written up in The Tribune, and people flocked from all corners of the city to see and buy his pieces, each and every one of them made of books. Mobiles of torn Hemingway pages, Great Gatsbys with “Do Not Enter” signs, collages of wordless pages of Hawthorne, Milton, Proust. Old books, new books, textbooks, sex books, all empty, shattered, scattered. The warehouse leafless books, books bound shut, pages and pages of books on the ground, some raked into a corner, brushed aside like autumn leaves . The warehouse Pol called home was filled, floor-to-ceiling, it seemed, with these strange book-husks that no one could read. But, of course, that didn’t stop anyone from trying.
“I think it’s about the demise of the printed word,” said the man with the monocle.
“I think it’s about illiteracy rates in Africa,” said the woman wearing the mink, whatever those are.
“I think it’s about violence on television,” quoth the gentleman in the top hat, “and the corrupting influence it has on the sexual identities of the children of America.”
They nodded. “That sounds about right.”
Pol walked by, but his eclipsed eyes revealing nothing but inky black.
Three months later, Pol’s second exhibition was an even bigger hit. On opening night, people flocked from all over the country to see and buy his pieces, each and every one of them made from music. Broken Beatles records sounding off the same harsh notes over and over, fragmented Nirvana CDs revolving slowly on placid turntables, cassette-tape strung about in the air. Brass monstrosities with accordion-arms and piano-key teeth towered over the lyrical desolace, filled, floor-to-ceiling in some places, with bits and pieces of music, ravaged instruments, tattered lyrics, distorted notes streaming through the air, crushed crushed beneath noisy red words. HUSH. GAG. DULL. All of it was music once but had now surrendered to silence, gleaming with a muted iridescence. The patrons, of course, couldn’t stop talking.
“I think it’s about the rise of digital sound, and how we need to bring music back to its roots,” said the man with the monocle, sipping a glass of champagne.
“I think it’s about the decadent dreams of so-called ‘successful’ musicians,” said the woman wearing the mink, tilting its face skyward with air-quoting forearms.
“I think it’s about deconstructing the nature of existential angst,” said the gentleman in the top-hat, “and blurring the lines between life and death.”
They nodded. “Hrmm, very insightful.”
Pol snaked by, his tight-lipped countenance affirming only quiet indifference.
Three months later, Pol’s third exhibition was the biggest hit of all. People flocked from all around the world to see and buy his pieces, each and every one of them made from paintings. Pockmarked, spray-painted canvases and shredded papers hung around the room. A torn Last Supper hung sideways, a scorched Melting Clocks lay draped across a makeshift hearth, a cherry-finished mobiles of splintered frames hung from the ceiling, a mess of inverted constellations on the Tungsten-lit ceiling. Shredded Mona Lisas and sandboxes full of flecked, chipped paint filled the room. Scribbled-over, desecrated Picassos, Van Goghs and Monets were everywhere, a dazzling array of the world’s most prized works. A massive reproduction of The Scream hovered over the whole scene, duct-tape blocking out its silent cry. The patrons, of course, didn’t hesitate to speculate her meaning nonetheless.
“I think it’s about deconstruction,” said the man in the monocle, sipping a gin-and-tonic with a strange delicacy, “and the nature of human perception.”
“I think it’s about the way no one appreciates art in the modern day,” said the woman in the mink, “and the slow decline of the bourgeoisie.”
“I think it’s about the human body,” said the gentlemen in the top-hat, “and the eternally warring relationship between the masculine and the feminine.”
Everyone nodded. “That sounds logical.”
Pol strolled by, appearing not to notice them, a picture of blissful ignorance.
Four months later, the exhibit, like the rest of Pol’s work, was a critical darling. A multitude of pieces were published in The New Yorker, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Miami Herald and countless other places, all praising his work, all with varying interpretations of what it meant. It hardly mattered, though, because everyone agreed: Pol had amassed an incredibly rich body of work. Critics, patrons and art enthusiasts alike clamored for more.
But none came. Pol’s silence was nearly as controversial as his work, and — since he hadn’t been seen since the night of his third exhibition, and he’d broken his apparently seasonal, three-month pattern — everyone demanded to know where he was.
“I think he’s in Bermuda,” said the man with the monocle, sipping his morning tea, “indulging in the rich pleasures of his success.”
“I think he’s fled to Montreal,” said the woman wearing the mink, its eyes now traded in for rubies, “that he’s fleeing religious persecution.”
“I think he’s hiding at home,” said the man in the top-hat, tossing his head like an irritable horse, “because he’s suffering, like all successful artists, from a devastating heroin addiction.”
The man in the top-hat was at least half-right.
The police broke down the rusty doors to Pol’s warehouse that very evening, plowing through the dark structure in search of the artist’s velvet-draped living quarters. It took the police some time to find them in the dark, but they managed eventually. Brushing aside the door-curtain, the Chief Sanders hiccuped, a little breath of air escaping in what was meant to be a gasp.
Countless works of art adorned the walls of the first room. The ceilings were adorned with stained-glass mobiles, the walls were embellished with rich tapestries and the floors were covered in brilliant sculpture, the eyes of the gorgeous figures glimmering in the policemen’s flashlight-beams. Not a one of them was desecrated, demolished or shattered, and every one of them was, as Chief Sanders could attest, absolutely breathtaking.
“This makes everything else he’s done look awful,” one man muttered.
“Terrible, just terrible.” the rest agreed.
They wandered, dazed, through what must have been a private exhibition, obliged to look to the last doorway in the building, a shadowy black rectangle in the corner of the room.
With the curtain swept aside, the officers gasped once more.
Pol sat in the middle of the floor, stock-still, bolt-upright. Dead. His legs were crossed beneath him in an almost meditative posture, his lips parted in a pained grimace. His hands held a newspaper, and his glasses had fallen from his face, revealing the most astonishing part of it all — his eyes. They shone, bright as day, revealing an iridescence, a blue unique to his eyes alone, shielded, til then, from all sunlight. They were fixed, in horror, on a review of his work.
The coroner claimed that Pol’s heart had stopped. “From shock, I reckon,” he’d said. So they buried Pol, as his will stipulated, in a black-painted, rectangular coffin. Despite Pol’s written insistence to the contrary, countless admirers attended his funeral, all speculating on the meaning of his death, of his life and of his work.
“I think it’s about — ”