Teju Cole – Open City, 2012

j brewster jr Francis O watts- Teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

The cluster of taxis at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South broke the illusion. After I had walked another quarter hour, by then thouroughly drenched. I stood under the eaves of a building on Fifty-third Street. When I turned around I saw that I was at the entryway of the American Folk Art Museum. Never having visited before, I went in.

The artifacts on display, most from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—weather vanes, ornaments, quilts, paintings—evoked the agrarian life of the new American country as well as the half-remembered traditions of the old European ones. It was the art of a country that had an aristocracy but did not have the patronage of courts: a simple open-faced, and awkward art. At the landing of the first flight of stairs, I saw an oll portrait of a young girl in a starchy red dress holding a white cat. A dog peeked out from under her chair. The detials were saccherine, but they could not obscure the force and beauty of the painting.

The artists featured in the museum were, in almost every case, working outside the elite tradition. They lacked formal training, but their work had soul. The sense of having wandered into the past was complete once I reached the third floor of the museum. The gallery had a row of slender white columns running through its middle, and the floors were polished cherrywood. These two elements echoed the colonial architecture of the New England and Middle Colonies.

That floor, as well as the one just below it, was given over to a special exhibition of the paintings of John Brewster. Brewster, the son of a New England doctor of the same name, had modest facility, but the scale of the exhibition made it clear that he had been much in demand as an artist. The gallery was quiet and calm and, save for the guard who stood in a corner, I was the only person there. This heightened the feeling of quietness I got from almost all the portraits. The stillness of the people depicted was certainly part of it, as was the sober colour palette of each panel, but there was something more, something harder to define: an air of hermeticism. Each of the portraits was a sealed-away world, visible from without, but impossible to enter. This was truest of Brewster’s many portraits of children, all of them self-possessed in their infantile bodies, and often with whimsical elements in their outfits, but with the faces, without exception, serious, more serious even than those of the adults, a gravity all out of keeping with their tender ages. Each child stood in a doll-like pose, and was brought to life by an incisive gaze. The effect was unsettling. The key, as I found out, was that John Brewster was profoundly deaf, and the same was true of many of the children he portrayed. Some of them were pupils at the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which had been founded in 1817 as the country’s first school for the deaf. Brewster was enrolled for three years there as an adult student, and it was while he was there that what later became known as American Sign Language was developed.

As I contemplated the silent world before me, I thought of the many romantic ideas attached to blindness. Ideas of unusual sensitivity and genius were evoked by the names of Milton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Borges, Ray Charles; to lose physical sight, it is thought, is to gain second sight. One door closes and another, greater one, opens. Homer’s blindness, many believe, is a kind of spiritual channel, a shortcut to the gifts of memory and of prophecy. When I was a child in Lagos, there was a blind, wandering bard, a man who was held in the greatest awe for his spiritual gifts. When he sang his songs, he left each person with the feeling that, in hearing him, they had somehow touched the numinous, or been touched by it. Once, in a crowded market at Ojuelegba, sometime in the early eighties, I saw him. It was from quite a distance, but I remember (or imagine that I remember) his large yellow eyes, calcified to a grey colour at the pupils, his frightening mien, and the big, dirty mantle he wore. He sang in a plaintive and high-pitched voice, in a deep, proverbial Yoruba that was impossible for me to follow. Afterward, I imagined that I had seen something like an aura around him, a spiritual apartness that moved all his hearers to reach into their purses and put something in the bowl his assistant boy carried around.

Such is the narrative around blindness. Not so with deafness, which, as in the case of one of my many great-uncles, was often seen as merely unfortunate. Many deaf people, it occurred to me just then, were treated as if they were mentally retarded; even the expression “deaf and dumb,” far from being a simple description of a physiological condition, had a pejororative sense.

Standing before Brewster’s portraits, my mind quiet, I saw the paintings as records of a silent transaction between artist and subject. A laden brush, in depositing paint on the panel or canvas, hardly registers a sound, and how great is the peace palpable in those great artists of stillness: Vermeer, Chardin, Hammershǿi. The silence was even more profound, I thought, as I stood alone in that gallery, when the private world of the artist was total in its quietness. Unlike those other painters, Brewster hadn’t resorted to indirect gazes or chiaroscuro to communicate the silence of his world. The faces were well lit and frontal, and yet they were quiet.

I stood at the window on the third floor and looked outside. The air had shifted from grey to dark blue, and afternoon had become late afternoon. One image drew me back in, a painting of a child holding a bird on a blue thread. The palette, as was usual for Brewster, was dominated by muted colours; the two exceptions were the electric blue of the thread, which coursed across the face of the painting like a bolt of electricity, and the child’s black shoes, which were deeper and blacker than almost anything else in the gallery. The bird represented the child’s soul, as it had in Goya’s portrait of the ill-fated three-year-old Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga. The child in the Brewster painting looked out with a serene and ethereal expression from the year 1805. He, unlike many of the others painted by Brewster, had his hearing intact. Was this portrait a talisman against death? One child in three at the time died before the age of twenty. Was it a magical wish that the child would hold on to life, as he held on to the string? Francis O. Watts, the subject of the painting, did live. He entered Harvard at fifteen and became a lawyer, married Caroline Goddard, who was from his hometown of Kennebunkport, Maine, and went on to become president of The Young Men’s Christian Association. He eventually died in 1860, fifty-five years after the portrait was made. But for the moment of the painting, and therefore, for all time, he is a little boy holding a bird by a blue string, clad in a white chemise with a carefully observed lace frill.

Brewster, born some ten years before the Declaration of Independence, lived his life as an itinerant artist, working all his way from Maine to his native Connecticut and to Eastern New York. He was almost ninety when he died. The elite Federalist milieu of his background had given him access to wealthy, serious-minded patrons (his own ancestors had been on the Mayflower in 1620) but his deafness made him an outsider, and his images were imbued with what that long silence had taught him: concentration, the suspension of time, an unobstrusive wit. In a painting titled One Shoe Off, which held me transfixed the moment I came before it, the neatly tied bow of a shoe on a little girl’s right foot echoed the asterisks of the floor pattern. The other shoe was in her hand, and red pentimenti were visible around the heel and the toes of the now unshod left foot. The child, as secure within her own being as were all of Brewster’s children, had an expression that dared the observer to be amused.

I lost all track of time before these images, fell deep into their world, as if all the time between them and me had somehow vanished, so that when the guard came up to me to say the museum was closing, I forgot how to speak and simply looked at him. When I eventually walked down the stairs and out of the museum, it was with the feeling of someone who had returned to the earth from a great distance.

J Brester jr one shoe off - teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Teju Cole,1975. Open City, 2012. Chapter 3. Published by Random House, January 17, 2012

Teju Cole, born 1975, is an American writer, photographer, and art historian. Open City is a documentary novel that explores layers of urban history and migrant experience set in post 9/11 New York. The narrative is seen through eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist who, in solitary walks, traverses and discovers New York. With the heightened sensitivity of the lone observer he muses on the people and random details of the city. He describes his experiences and encounters in a series of internalised contemplative and reflective emotional states that connect the transient thoughts and physical moments with his own life, and ideas of time and memory. The metaphorical associations of art, music and literature are integral to Julius’ fine-tuned stories of city life as he visits an exhibition of paintings by John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854, at the American Folk Art Museum, and an exhibition of photographs by Martin Munkácsi, 1896-1963, at the International Center of Photography, and makes references to Jan Van Eyck, Paul Claudel, Diego Velázquez in the text.

Images: John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.  Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

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Édouard Levé – Oeuvres,2002

Oeuvre1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
72. The eraser residues of all the students in a fine arts institute are collected for a year and reconstituted into a cube.
84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works. Once its destruction is complete, what’s left of a piece is rubble and ashes. Damages are classified by type: fire, flood, submersion, earthquake, shock, fall, collapse, bombardment, assault, vandalism, poor conservation . . .
89. Soap bubbles are blown into a space where the temperature is 100°C. Keeping the shape that the cold surprised them in, they are exhibited in a refrigerated aquarium.
95. An artist creates ten paintings on his fingernails. Those on his left hand are painted with those on his right hand, and vice versa. The exhibit takes place in the home of the viewer. He is given a ten-sided die and asked to throw it. The artist shows him the fingernail corresponding to the number on the die for as he long as the viewer wants. He keeps his other fingernails hidden. The exhibition ends after ten throws of the die. The viewer has a chance of thirty-six out of a hundred million to see all ten nails in the same session.
110. The atelier of Frenhofer, the painter in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, as imagined by four readers, is shown as slideshow projections onto the walls of a room. The readers explain their visual interpretation to an artist, who draws the scene, dutifully complying with each reader’s amendments, in the style of an identikit. These drawings form the basis for the construction of four ateliers that are then photographed, the result showing four real versions of this fictive place.
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.
142. “POISONWOOD FAIRYLAND” is painted in orange block capitals on canvas woven from flax linen taken from a field peppered with poisonous plants.
143. A labyrinth is painted in skimmed milk on a museum façade is destroyed in bad weather.
179. In an enormous hall lies a valley between two mountainous slopes made out of white Styrofoam. At the far end is a crashed Airbus A 320 made out of kebabs. Smaller parts of the wreck, also made out of kebabs are scattered throughout the valley, making visible the trajectory of the accident. The ensemble is looked upon through a panoramic window piercing the wall.
181. The Aleph. A dull glass sphere floats in the middle of a dark room. Random video images taken from cinema and television archives are projected onto its surface from the inside. Landscapes, houses, animals, automobiles, supermarkets, books, news, images, scenes of family, love, war . . .
212. A naked man, seated on a chair. His testicles are two tiny globes: the one the earth, the other the moon.
228. A misty black ring against a white wall—trace of a motorcycle tailpipe.
238. Places are photographed by their reflections in spit bubbles.
247. The paragraphs of a novel are replaced by black rectangles whose surface area corresponds to the number of letters used in the paragraph. Spaces and line breaks are not counted. The top of each rectangle is aligned with where the corresponding paragraph started. The narrative is reduced to a sequence of geometric paintings.
358. The labels on a sound system—CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux—are replaced with new ones: Love, Break-up, Friendship, Depression.
359. A naked man standing upright is adorned with pockets of colour created by using a syringe to inject ink into the layer of silicone he wears on his skin.
372. The daily sounds made by a family in a house are recorded. The family then moves out and the house is emptied. Only the marks made by their furniture on the floors and walls remain. In each room, the sounds made there while the house was occupied are played back.
378. The paintings in a museum of fine arts are temporarily taken down and replaced by monochrome paintings of identical dimensions. The colour of each monochrome is chosen by a computer that analyses all the brushstrokes of the original painting and comes up with its average colour. With rare exceptions, such as paintings of the sky, or night scenes, the dominant colour is brown.
385. A stream disappears into the earth somewhere in a French park where visitors throw flowers into it. Somewhere in a garden in New Zealand, is a spring where the emerging water contains the same flowers.
449. The letterboxes inside an apartment building bear the names of famous dead writers and artists.
499. A human puddle lies on the floor, halfway between a bearskin and a pool of polyurethane. Head, hands, feet, nipples, genitals, buttocks, elbows, knees, and shoulders poke up here and there out of a shapeless mass of pink silicone.
471. Schopenhauer’s The Art of Being Right is read in the tone of a televised soccer commentary.
512. Museum of the Answering Machine. Chosen at random from the phone book, ten thousand messages left on answering machines are collected. Kept on CD-ROM, they can be consulted using a computer, either by typing in a number between one and ten thousand, or through searching for a keyword corresponding to a type of language or to a word used in the message.
520. A novel is shot with a revolver, resulting in a bullet hole piercing its core. The missing words are found in another copy. A short story called “The Hole” is written, using only these words.
530: A Philip K. Dick story is written in reverse. The last sentence is the first, the second to last is the second, and so on, right up to the first sentence, which is the last.
533. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author gives public readings. The audience is invited to say the number of the work they wish to have read to them, and the author complies by reading the corresponding description. The reading ends when no one asks him to continue.

Édouard Levé,1965-2007. Oeuvres,2002 Works,2014

Édouard Levé, Oeuvres. Published by P.O.L Editeur, France, 2002.

Édouard Levé, Works. Published by Dalkey Archive Press, 2014. Translation by Jan Steyn.

Édouard Levé’s Oeuvres is modular rather than a narrative literature, describing in the style of a formal catalogue, a potential list of 533 conceptual artworks conceived by the author. Many of the ideas appear odd, banal or ridiculous as isolated conceptual artworks, although they are often closely related to contemporary artists’ statements and projects, and verge on satirizing the content of contemporary art. The first project described in this book, 1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being is in fact the book Oeuvres. Some ideas were completed by Levé, in the books Amérique and Pornographie. Oeuvres emerges from the Oulipo group and post-1945 French experimental writing.

Will Self – The Book of Dave,2006

The Book of Dave

October 2000

     Achilles was getting off his plinth; first one big foot then the other tore
from its base with a tortured screech. He cut at the rags of mist with his
short sword and brandished his shield at the Hilton Hotel. A couple of
early-bird tourists who had been posing for a snap in front of the statue ~
male pecking with camera, female with wings neatly folded — were struck
to the ground by one of Achilles’s bulldozing greaves, as he clunked by
them heading for Apsley House. He did not waver — he had no quarrel
with them. He took no issue either with the cars he kicked as he strode
across the roadway and on to the traffic island. Seven metres of bronze
against two-millimetre thicknesses of steel — there was no contest; in the
statue’s wake smashed vehicles lay on their sides, their engines racing and
groaning.
     Lit by the rising sun, fingernails of opalescent cloud scratched contrails
on the sky. Achilles stood beneath Constitution Arch and beat shield with
sword. With a bang, then a spatter of stony fragments, the four horses
atop the arch came alive, tossing their leaden heads. The boy holding the
traces struggled to control them. Peace, erect in her chariot, her robe
coming off her shoulder in rigid folds, flicked the reins and the whole,
mighty quadriga rose, banked sharply and came munching down. Peace
threw her laurel wreath like a frisbee, and Achilles caught it on his sword.
     The other statues on the traffic island were animating: the Iron Duke
spurred down his horse, Copenhagen; the bronze figures that attended
him — Guard, Dragoon, Fusilier and Highlander — wrenched themselves
free from the polished granite and fell in behind their commander-in-chief.
     On the Royal Regiment of Artillery memorial the dead gunner rose up
from under his petrifed greatcoat and joined his comrades. Together they
unlimbered their stone field gun. David, tall, svelte and naked, shimmied
from the Machine Gun Corps memorial — sword in one hand, Bren gun
in the other. These terrible figures stood apart, turning to face down
Piccadilly, Knightsbridge, Grosvenor Place and Park Lane, undecided
what to do now movement had been bestowed upon them. The few
pedestrians who were abroad at this early hour scattered like rabbits,
tearing between the trees of Green Park, discarding briefcases and
umbrellas as they ran, while those drivers not violently impinged on
remained oblivious, their heads clamped in their own metal tumult. The
company of statues formed up, with Achilles in the van and Peace to the
rear. They marched of down Constitution Hill, feet striking sparks as
they clanked over the kerbs.
      All across London, as the statues came to life, they were at first bemused
— then only with reluctance purposeful. Clive of India jumped from his
plinth and took the stairs down to Horse Guards skipping. Lincoln at first
sat down, surprised, then, struggling up from his chair in Parliament
Square, crossed over to the menhir bulk of Churchill, took his arm and
assisted him to walk. Earl Haig led his mount alongside Montgomery, who
was preposterous in his dimpled elephantine trousers. In Knightsbridge,
Shackleton and Livingstone stepped out from their niches in the Royal
Geographical Society. Golden Albert squeezed between the gilded stan-
chions of his memorial, and those blowzy ladies Europe, Africa, Asia and
America formed a stony crocodile in his train. In Waterloo Place, Scott
strolled up and down the pavement, striking a few attitudes, modelling
his Burberry outfit.
      In Chelsea, Thomas More stood up abruptly, his golden nose flashing;
while across the river the droopy-eared Buddhas were stirring in their
pagoda. Up in Highgate Cemetery the colossal head of Marx wobbled,
then rolled downhill over the mounds of freshly dug graves. They were all
heading for Trafalgar Square, where five-metre-high Nelson was gingerly
shinnying down his own column, while Edith Cavell tripped past St Martin-in-the-Fields, her marble skirts rattling against the pedestrian barriers.
Not only human figures were on the move but animals as well: packs
of stone dogs and herds of bronze cattle. Guy the Gorilla knuckle-walked
out of London Zoo and around the Outer Circle; the dolphins slithered
from the lamp-posts along the Thames and flopped into town. Mythical
creatures joined the throng closing in on Trafalgar Square: riddling
sphinxes, fying griffins and even the ill-conceived Victorian dinosaurs
came humping overland from Crystal Palace. The whole mad overwrought
bestiary arrived ramping and romping. The Landseer lions rose up to meet
them, stretched and soundlessly roared.
     Multiples of monarchs: doughty Williams, German Georges, dumpy
Victorias. Presses of prime ministers, scrums of generals and colonial
administrators, flying vees of viceroys, gaggles of writers and artists,
cohorts of Christs – from façades and niches, plinths and pediments,
Crucifixes and crosses, the statues of London tore themselves free, until the
whole centre of the city was a heaving hubbub of tramping bronze,
clanking cast-iron, grating granite and marble. These graven images, these
tin-pot gods! They had no more uniformity of purpose than they did of
style, substance or scale — giant warmongers and diminutive deities, they
were distorted embodiments of their creators’ confused and ever-changing
priorities. They didn’t mean to cause any damage or distress — but they
just did. They left pediments bare and cornices crumpling, domes imploded,
porticos and bridges slumped, colonnades collapsed. They didn’t mean to
hurt the soft little people, but they were so big and hard that skins were
split and skulls were crushed wherever they went.
     Standing on the steps of Nelson’s Column, Achilles beat sword on
shield, trying to gain the statues’ attention. It was pointless — these hunks
could make no common cause, they knew nothing, felt nothing — only the
rage of eternal sleepers robbed of their repose. Greek gods and goddesses
stood about in profile; Saint Thomas à Becket writhed in his death agony;
Baden-Powell scouted out the terrain. Slowly — lazily even — the statues
began to fight one another. Marble clanged on iron, granite on bronze, as
the maddened effigies battled with the incomprehensibility of their own
sentience. What were they? Nothing. So sightlessly stared through for so
very long that they had no more significance than a dustbin or a postbox
— less perhaps.
     Then there was a diversion — some dumb cabbie had managed to wrestle
his vehicle free from the jam on the Charing Cross Road, and now he was
trying to turn around in the roadway beneath the National Gallery. He
backed and filled, knocking fauns, cherubs and caryatids over like ninepins.
Achilles leaped down from his vantage and strode over. He leaned down,
and his disproportionately tiny cock rasped along the cab’s roof shattering
the ‘For Hire’ sign . . .

 

Will Self, born 1961.        The Book of Dave, 2006

“Lest this seem too recherché, too recondite, too elitist, I would go further, and argue that as the aesthete was to the late nineteenth-century writer, so the ordinary man’s perception of the visual arts is to the twentieth. Joyce, as ever, stands at the crossroads of futurity. In Ulysses (1922), Leopold Bloom may be obsessed with the marble statues of the Greek goddesses in the Irish National Gallery for motives as much prurient as aesthetic, but the fact remains that he is obsessed by them. A pudendum is as good a way into a thing as any other.  In my own new novel, The Book of Dave (2006), I take this democratisation of the aesthetic a few steps further. My protagonist, a London cabbie called Dave Rudman, is a collector of statues: the entire city is his private gallery, its monumental works are his bibelots.”

Art for fiction’s sake: The Art of Writing, by Will Self. 1 September 2006. Tate etc. issue 8. Autumn 2006. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/art-fictions-sake

Michel Houellebecq – La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

la-carte-et-le-territoire

A little despite himself, he approached Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which was standing on his easel in the middle of the studio, and dissatisfaction seized him again, still more bitterly. He realised he was hungry, which wasn’t normal after the complete Christmas dinner he’d had with his father — starter, main course, cheese and dessert, nothing had been left out but he felt hungry and so hot he could no longer breathe. He returned to the kitchen, opened a tin of cannelloni in sauce and ate them one by one, while looking morosely at his failed painting. Koons was undoubtedly not light enough, not ethereal enough — it would perhaps have been necessary to give him wings, like the god Mercury, he thought stupidly; there, with his pinstriped suit and salesman’s smile, he reminded you a bit of Silvio Berlusconi.

On the ArtPrice ranking of the richest artists, Koons was world number 2; for a few years now, Hirst, ten years his junior, had taken his place at number 1. As for Jed, he had reached 593 ten years ago — but 17 in France. He had then, as the Tour de France commentators say, ‘dropped to the bottom of the classement’, before disappearing from it altogether. He finished the tin of cannelloni and opened an almost empty bottle of cognac. Lighting his ramp of halogen lamps to the maximum, he trained them on the centre of the canvas. On closer inspection, the night itself wasn’t right: it didn’t have that sumptuousness, that mystery we associate with nights on the Arabian peninsula; he should have used a deep blue, not ultramarine. He was making a truly shit painting. He seized a palette knife, cut open Damien Hirst’s eye, and forced the gash wider; it was a canvas of tight linen fibres, and therefore very tough. Catching the sticky canvas with one hand, he tore it in one blow, tipping the easel over onto the floor. Slightly calmed, he stopped, looked at his hands, sticky with paint, and finished the cognac before jumping feet first onto his painting, stamping on it and rubbing it against the floor until it became slippery. He ended up losing his balance and fell, the back of his head hitting the frame of the easel violently. He belched and vomited, and suddenly felt better, the fresh night air circulating freely on his face, and he closed his eyes contentedly: he had visibly reached the end of a cycle.

Chapter 9.

Many years later, when he had become famous — extremely famous, if the truth be told — Jed would be asked numerous times what it meant, in his eyes, to be an artist. He would find nothing very interesting or original to say, except one thing, which he would consequently repeat in each interview: to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape — except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect. These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all, without having any project at all, or the slightest hope of continuing. It was thus, and only thus, that the artists condition could, sometimes, be described as difficult. It was also thus, and only thus, that it distinguished itself from other professions or trades, to which he would pay homage in the second part of his career, the one which would earn him worldwide renown.

Chapter 11.

Jed was not to remain faithful to the Sennelier brand, and his mature paintings are almost entirely made with Mussini oils by Schmincke. There are exceptions, and certain greens, particularly the cinnabar greens that give such a magical glow to the forests of California pine descending towards the sea in Bill Gates and Steve jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, are borrowed from the Rembrandt range of oils by the firm Royal Talens. And for the whites he almost always used Old Holland oils, whose opacity he appreciated.

Jed Martin’s first paintings, art historians have later emphasised, could easily lead you down the wrong track. By devoting his first two canvases, Ferdinand Desroches, Horse Butcher then Claude Vorilhon, Bar-Tabac Manager, to professions in decline, Martin could give the impression of nostalgia for a past age, real or fantasised, in France. Nothing, and this is the conclusion that has ended up emerging about all his works, was more foreign to his real preoccupations; and if Martin began by looking at two washed-up professions, it was in no way because he wanted to encourage lamentations on their probable disappearance: it was simply that they were, indeed, going to disappear soon, and it was important to fix their images on canvas while there was still time. For his third painting in the series of professions, Maya Dubois, Remote Maintenance Assistant, he devoted himself to a profession that was in no way stricken or old fashioned, a profession on the contrary emblematic of the policy of just-in-time production which had orientated the entire economic redeployment of Western Europe at the turn of the third millennium.

In the first monograph he devoted to Martin, Wong Fu Xin develops a curious analogy based on colorimetry. The colours of the objects in the world can be represented by a certain number of primary colours; the minimum number, to achieve an almost realistic representation, is three. But you can perfectly build a colorimetric chart on the basis of four, five, six, or even more primary colours; the spectrum of representation would in this way become more extensive and subtle.

In the same way, asserts the Chinese essayist, the productive conditions of a given society may be recreated by means of a number of typical professions, whose number according to him (it is a figure he gives without any empirical evidence) can be fixed at between ten and twenty. In the numerically most important part of the ‘Professions’ series, the one that art historians have taken the habit of entitling the ‘Series of Simple Professions’, Jed Martin portrays no less than forty—two typical professions, thus offering, for the study of the productive conditions of the society of his times, a spectrum of analysis that is particularly extensive and rich. The following twenty—two paintings, centred on confrontations and encounters, classically called the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, themselves aimed to give a relational and dialectical image of the functioning of the economy as a whole.

The ‘Series of Simple Professions’ took Jed Martin a little more than seven years to paint. During these years, he didn’t meet many people, and formed no new relationship — whether sentimental or simply friendly. He had moments of sensory pleasure: an orgy of Italian pasta after a raid on the Casino hypermarket in the boulevard Vincent-Auriol; such-and-such an evening with a Lebanese escort girl whose sexual performances amply justified the ecstatic reviews she received on the site Niamodel.com. ‘Layla, I love you, you are the sunshine of my days in the office, my little oriental star,’ wrote some unfortunate fifty-somethings, while Layla for her part dreamed of muscular men, virile, poor and strong: this was the life, basically, as she saw it. Easily identified as a guy who was ‘a bit bizarre but nice, not at all dangerous’, Jed benefited with Layla from that kind of exception of extra-territoriality that has always been attributed to artists by the girls. It is maybe Layla, but more certainly Genevieve, his Malagasy ex-girlfriend, who is recalled in one of his most touching canvases, Aimée, Escort Girl, treated with an exceptionally warm palette based on umber, Indian orange and Naples yellow. At the opposite extreme from Toulouse-Lautrec’s representation of a made-up, chlorotic and unhealthy prostitute, Jed Martin paints a fulfilled young woman, both sensual and intelligent, in a modern flat bathed in light. With her back to the window, which opens onto a public garden since identified as the square des Batignolles, and simply dressed in a tight white miniskirt, Aimée is finishing putting on a tiny orange-yellow top that only very partially covers her magnificent breasts.

Martin’s only erotic painting, it is also the first where openly autobiographical echoes have been uncovered. The second one, The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business, was painted two years later, and marks the beginning of a genuine period of creative frenzy that would last for a year and a half and end with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, subtitled The Conversation at Palo Alto, which many consider his masterpiece. It is astonishing to think that the twenty-two paintings of the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, often complex and in wide format, were made in just eighteen months. It is also surprising that Jed Martin finally hit a snag on a canvas, Damien Hirst and Jefi Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which could have, in many regards, matched his Jobs-Gates composition. Analysing this failure, Wong Fu Xin sees in it the reason for his return, a year later, to the ‘Series of Simple Professions’ through his sixty-fifth and final painting. Here, the clarity of the Chinese essayist’s thesis carries conviction: in his desire to give an exhaustive view of the productive sector of the society of his time, Jed Martin was inevitably, at one moment or another in his career, going to portray an artist.

Michel Houellebecq, 1956      La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

La carte et le Terretoire, published by Flammarion, Paris 2010. © Michel Houellebecq ©Translation copyright by by Gavin Bowd, Published by William Heinnemann, London.

Danny Moynihan – Boogie-Woogie, 2000

‘Jay, It’s Art Spindle.’

‘My dear man, are you in town?’

‘No, I’m in New York,’

‘So how ‘s it going over there?’

‘Musn’t grumble. Preparing for Cologne.’

‘Listen, Art, I’m so glad that you called, I have a marvelous new piece by Hirst which I thought would fir perfectly into your collection. Not for resale, old boy.’

‘I’ve got a couple of pieces of his already, Jay.’

‘Indeed you have, and two exceptional pieces they are, but this is one of the most important things he’s done and I think if you had some loose change, it would be worth it.’

‘What is it?’

‘It’s a geometrically perfect ruler called Mortality, It’s an edition of three. I’ve sold one to Latchkey and the other is on reserve to the Tate.’

‘How much?’

‘Forty thousand pounds which today is, wait a minute, its about sixty-six thousand dollars.’

‘Expensive, Jay.’

‘Well you know, I think he’s doing very exciting work. I think this piece is seminal in that it shows, in a wonderful simple way how we measure our lives by certain events and yet fail to recognize the finite.’

‘Umm, interesting, yeah, umm, yeah.’

‘I think it’s an important piece.’

‘Will you take fifty-five?’

‘Well, Art, the problem is that it is very expensive to make. Hirst uses the head of Time and Measure in Paris to get precisely the right size and then it’s constructed in Germany by precision engineers.’

‘Jesus, Okay, what about fifty-eight?’

‘I think sixty would be an excellent price.’

‘Jay you drive a hard bargain. I’ll take it for fifty-nine.’

‘I think for you that would be satisfactory. As usual you’ve made a wise decision.’

Danny Moynihan. b. 1959.      Boogie-Woogie, 2000

Image: Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007