Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2002

 

gerhard-richter_dead-tote-1988_oil-on-canvas_moma
Gerhard Richter. Dead (Tote) 1988. Oil on Canvas. 62x73cm, MoMA, New York

She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimidation behind her, a faint displacement of air. She’d been alone for a time, seated on a bench in the middle of the gallery with the paintings set around her, a cycle of fifteen canvases, and this is how it felt to her, that she was sitting as a person does in a mortuary chapel, keeping watch over the body of a relative or friend.

This was sometimes called the viewing, she believed.

She was looking at Ulrike now, head and upper body, her neck rope-scorched, although she didn’t know for certain what kind of implement had been used in the hanging.

She heard the other person walk toward the bench, a man’s heavy shuffling stride, and she got up and went to stand before the picture pof Ulrike, one of three related images, Ulrike dead in each, lying on the floor of her cell, head in profile. The canvases varied in size. The woman’s reality, the head, the neck, the rope burn, the hair, the facial features, were painted, picture to picture, in nuances of obscurity and pall, a detail clearer here than there, the slurred mouth in one painting appearing nearly natural elsewhere, all of it unsystematic.

“Why do you think he did it this way?”

She did not turn to look at him.

“So shadowy. No color.”

She said, “I don’t know,” and went to the next set of images, called Man Shot Down. This was Andreas Baader. She thought of him by his full name or surname. She thought of Meinhof, she saw Meinhof as first name only, Ulrike, and the same was the case with Gudrun.

“I’m trying to think what happened to them.”

“They committed suicide. Or the state killed them.”

He said, “The state.” Then he said it again, deep-voiced„ in a tone of melodramatic menace, trying out a line reading that might be more suitable.

She wanted to be annoyed but felt instead a vague chagrin. It wasn’t like her to use this term – the state – in the ironclad context of supreme public power. This was not her vocabulary.

The two paintings of Baader dead in his cell were the same size but addressed the subject somewhat differently, and this is what she did now – she concentrated on the differences, arm, shirt, unknown object at the edge of the frame, the disparity or uncertainty.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I’m only telling you what people believe. It was twenty-five years ago. I don’t know what it was like then, in Germany, with bombings and kidnappings.”

“The made an agreement, don’t you think?”

“Some people believe they were murdered in their cells.”

“A pact. There were terrorists, weren’t they? When they’re not killing other people, they’re killing themselves.” he said. 

She was looking at Andreas Baader, first one painting, then the other, then back again.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s even worse in a way. It’s so much sadder. There’s so much sadness in these pictures.”

Don DeLillo,1936. Baader-Meinhof, in, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, 2011. First published as Baader-Menhof, in The New Yorker, April 1st 2002

Images: Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Man Shot Down 2 (Erschossener 2), 1988. Oil on Canvas, 100.5 x 140.5 cm

Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Dead (Tote), 1988. Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm

© MoMA, New York. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer

The short story describes a series of fifteen paintings entitled, October 18, 1977, by Gerhard Richter, born 1932, now in MoMA, New York. Text from: Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007. The fifteen paintings that compose October 18, 1977 are based on photographs of moments in the lives and deaths of four members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. . . . these paintings have a single date as their title. On this date the bodies of three principal RAF members were found in the cells of the German prison where they were incarcerated. Although the deaths were officially deemed suicides, there was widespread suspicion that the prisoners had been murdered by the German state police. Richter based his paintings on newspaper and police photographs; his reworking of these documentary sources is dark, blurred, and diffuse. Richter hopes that, “by way of reporting,” these paintings will “contribute to an appreciation of [our time], to see it as it is.”

 

Advertisements

Frank Norris – Vandover and the Brute,1894-5 pub.1914

norrisvandover2

Then an immense and overwhelming terror seized upon him. Was there nothing, then–nothing left which he could lay hold of to save him? He knew that he could not deliver himself by his own exertions. Religion could not help him, he had killed his father, estranged the girl he might have loved, outraged the world, and at a single breath blighted the fine innate purity of his early years. It was as if he had entered into his life in the world as into some vast labyrinth, wandering on aimlessly, flinging from him one by one the threads, the clues, that might have led him again to a safe exit, going down deeper and deeper until, when near the centre, he had suddenly felt the presence of the brute, had heard its loathsome muttering growl, had at last seen it far down at the end of a passage, dimly and in a dark shadow; terrified, he had started back, looking wildly about for any avenue of escape, searching with frantic haste and eagerness for any one of those clues he had so carelessly cast from him, realizing that without such guidance he would inevitably tend down again to that fatal central place where the brute had its lair.

There was nothing, nothing. He clearly saw the fate toward which he was hurrying; it was not too late to save himself if he only could find help, but he could find no help. His terror increased almost to hysteria. It was one of those dreadful moments that men sometimes undergo that must be met alone, and that when past, remain in the memory for all time; a glimpse far down into the springs and wheels of life; a glimpse that does not come often lest the reason brought to the edge of the fearful gulf should grow dizzy at the sight, and reeling, topple headlong.

But suddenly Vandover rose to his feet, the tears came to his eyes, and with a long breath he exclaimed: “Thank God for it!” He grew calmer in a moment, the crisis had passed, he had found a clue beneath his groping fingers.

He had remembered his art, turning to it instinctively as he always did when greatly moved. This was the one good thing that yet survived. It was the strongest side of him; it would be the last to go; he felt it there yet. It was the one thing that could save him.

The thought had come to him so suddenly and with such marvellous clearness that in his present exalted state of mind it filled him with a vague sense of awe, it seemed like a manifestation, a writing on the wall. Might it not be some sort of miracle? He had heard of men reforming their lives, transformed almost in an instant, and had scoffed at the idea. But might it not be true, after all? What was this wonderful thing that had happened to him? Was this less strange than a miracle? Less divine?

The following day Vandover rented a studio. It was the lofty room with hardwood floors and the immense north light in that suite which he had rejected when looking for rooms on the former occasion. He gave notice to the clerk in the apartment house where his quarters were situated that he intended to vacate after the first of the month. Charming as he had found these rooms, he gave up, with scarcely a regret, the idea of living in them any longer. In a month it would be summer and he would be on his way to Paris.

But so great was his desire for work now, so eager was he to start the “Last Enemy,” so strong was the new energy that shook him, that Vandover could not wait until summer to begin work again. He grudged everything now that kept him away from his easel.

He disappeared from the sight of his ordinary companions; he did not even seek the society of Geary or of young Haight. All the sketches he had made for the “Last Enemy,” together with his easel and his disused palette, his colour-box, tubes, brushes and all the other materials and tools for his work, he caused to be transferred to the new studio. Besides this he had the stretcher made, best twill canvas on a frame four feet long, two and a half feet high. This was for the large sketch of the picture. But the finished work he calculated would demand an eight by five stretcher.

He did not think of decorating the room, of putting any ornaments about the wall. He was too serious, too much in earnest now to think of that. The studio was not to be his lounging place, but his workshop. His art was work with him now, hard, serious work. It was above all work that he needed to set him right again, regular work, steady, earnest work, not the dilettante fancy of an amateur content with making pretty things.

Never in his life had Vandover been so happy. He came and went continually between his rooms, his studio, and his art dealers, tramping grandly about the city, whistling to himself, strong, elated, filled with energy, vigour, ambition. At times his mind was full of thankfulness at this deliverance at the eleventh hour; at times it was busy with the details of the picture, its composition, its colour scheme. The main effects he wanted to produce were isolation and intense heat, the shadows on the sand would be blue, the horizon line high on the canvas, the sky would be light in tone, almost white near the earth.

The morning when he first began to work was charming. His new studio was in the top floor of a five-story building, and on arriving there, breathless from his long climb up the stairs, Vandover threw open the window and gazed out and down upon the city spread out below him, enjoying the view a moment before settling to his work.

A little later the trades would be blowing strong and brisk from the ocean, driving steadily through the Golden Gate, filling the city with a taint of salt; but at present the air was calm, touched with a certain nimbleness, a sparkling effervescence, invigourating, exhilarating.

It was early in the forenoon, not yet past nine o’clock, and the mist that gathers over the city just before dawn was steaming off under the sun, very thin and delicate, turning all distant objects a flat tone of pale blue. Over the roofs of the houses he could catch a glimpse of the distant mountains, faint purple masses against the pale edge of the sky, rimming the horizon round with a fillet of delicate colour. But any larger view was barred by a huge frame house with a slated mansard roof, directly opposite him across the street, a residence house, one of the few in the neighbourhood. It had been newly painted white and showed brave and gay against the dark blue of the sky and the ruddy greens of the great garden in which it stood. Vandover from his window could from time to time catch the smell of eucalyptus trees coming to him in long aromatic breaths mingled with the odour of wet grass and fresh paint. Somewhere he heard a hummingbird singing, a tiny tweedling thread of song, while farther off two roosters were crowing back and forth at each other with strained and raucous trumpet calls.

Vandover turned back to his work. Under the huge north light was the easel, and clamped upon it the stretcher, blank, and untouched. The very sight of the heavy cream-white twill was an inspiration. Already Vandover saw a great picture upon it; a great wave of emotion suddenly welled up within him and he cried with enthusiasm:

“By God! it is in moods like this that chef d’oeuvres are made.”

Around the baseboard of the room were a row of esquisses for the picture, on small landscape-stretchers, mere blotches of colour laid on with the palette knife and large brushes, almost unintelligible to any one but Vandover. He selected two or three of these and fastened them to the easel above the big stretcher where he could have them continually in his eye. He lit his pipe, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and standing before the easel, began to sharpen a stick of charcoal with an old razor, drawing the blade toward him so as to keep the point of the stick from breaking. Then at last with a deep breath of satisfaction he began blocking in the first large construction lines of his picture.

It was one o’clock before he knew it. He went downtown and had a hasty lunch, jealous of every moment that was not spent on his picture. The sight of it as he re-entered the room sent a thrill all over him; he was succeeding better than he could have expected, doing better than he thought he would. He felt sure that now he should do good work; every stage of the picture’s progress was an inspiration for the next one. At this time the figures had only been “placed,” broadly sketched in large lines, “blocked in” as he called it. The next step was the second drawing, much more finished.

He rapped the stretcher sharply with his knuckles; it responded sonorously like a drumhead, the vibration shaking the charcoal from the tracings, filling the air with a fine dust. The outlines grew faint, just perceptible enough to guide him in the second more detailed drawing.

He brought his stick of charcoal to a very fine edge and set to work carefully. In a moment he stopped and, with his chamois cloth, dusted out what he had drawn. He had made a false start, he began but could not recall how the lines should run, his fingers were willing enough; in his imagination he saw just how the outlines should be, but somehow he could not make his hand interpret what was in his head. Some third medium through which the one used to act upon the other was sluggish, dull; worse than that, it seemed to be absent. “Well,” he muttered, “can’t I make this come out right?” Then he tried more carefully. His imagination saw the picture clearer, his hand moved with more assurance, but the two seemed to act independently of each other. The forms he made on the canvas were no adequate reflection of those in his brain; some third delicate and subtle faculty that coordinated the other two and that called forth a sure and instant response to the dictates of his mind, was lacking. The lines on his canvas were those of a child just learning to draw; one saw for what they were intended, but they were crude, they had no life, no meaning. The very thing that would have made them intelligible, interpretive, that would have made them art, was absent. A third, a fourth, and a fifth time Vandover made the attempt. It was useless. He knew that it was not because his hand lacked cunning on account of long disuse; such a thing, in spite of popular belief, never happened to artists–a good artist might abandon his work for five years, ten years–and take it up again precisely where he had laid it down with no loss of technical skill. No, this thing seemed more subtle, so subtle that at first he could hardly grasp it. But suddenly a great fear came upon him, a momentary return of that wild hysterical terror from which he believed he had forever escaped.

“Is it gone?” he cried out. “Is it gone from me? My art? Steady,” he went on, passing his hand over his face with a reassuring smile; “steady, old man, this won’t do, again–and so soon! It won’t do for you to get scared twice like that. This is just nervousness, you are overexcited. Pshaw! What’s the matter with me? Let’s get to work.”

Still another time he dusted out what he had done and recommenced, concentrating all his attention with a tremendous effort of the will. Grotesque and meaningless shapes, the mocking caricatures of those he saw in his fancy, grew under his charcoal, while slowly, slowly, a queer, numb feeling came in his head, like a rising fog, and the touch of that unreasoning terror returned, this time stronger, more persistent, more tenacious than before.

Vandover nerved himself against it, not daring to give in, fearing to allow himself to see what this really meant. He passed one hand over his cheek and along the side of his head, the fingers dancing. “Hum!” he muttered, looking vaguely about him, “this is bad. I mustn’t let this get the better of me now. I’ll knock off for to-day, take a little rest, begin again to-morrow.”

In ten minutes he was back at his easel again. His charcoal wandered, tracing empty lines on his canvas, the strange numbness grew again in his head. All the objects in the range of his eyes seemed to move back and stand on the same plane. He became a little dizzy.

“It’s the tobacco,” he exclaimed. “That pipe always was too strong.” He turned away to the open window, feeling an irresistible need of distraction, of amusement, and he remained there resting on his elbows, listening and looking, trying to be interested.

Frank Norris, 1870-1902.  Vandover and the Brute, 1894/5, published 1914. Chapter 14

The novel follows the life of Vandover as an art student and his increasingly degenerate lifestyle and circumstances as his personality disintegrates and finds a desparate outlet through an obsessive creation of art. In Chapter 5, his idea for a masterpiece  “The Last Enemy” is presented:  “Some time before there had come to him the idea for a great picture. It was to be his first masterpiece, his salon picture when he should get to Paris. A British cavalryman and his horse, both dying of thirst and wounds, were to be lost on a Soudanese desert, and in the middle distance on a ridge of sand a lion should be drawing in upon them, crouched on his belly, his tail stiff, his lower jaw hanging. The melodrama of the old English “Home Book of Art” still influenced Vandover. He was in love with this idea for a picture and had determined to call it “The Last Enemy.” The effects he wished to produce were isolation and intense heat; as to the soldier, he was as yet undecided whether to represent him facing death resignedly, calmly, or grasping the barrel of his useless rifle, determined to fight to the last.”

Tama Janowitz – Slaves of New York,1986

tama janowitz_slavesof new york 1986

Snowball

The juice of New York was something he could understand. American rage, freedom from European classicism and the deathly Common Market. Still, he had problems with his stomach. It was fifteen or sixteen years since he had moved to New York. Now his artists were famous for painting cartoon characters, primitive computerlike drawings, rip-offs of Navaho and African art. He was riding the crest of the future, it was better that he hadn’t stuck with painting. He had been involved with a revolutionary group, in the 1960s: one of the members had gone up to the offices of a famous art publication and chopped off his finger on the desk of the senior editor. This was a statement. He and two others had bombed the information desk at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a small bomb; none of them expected that a few paintings would receive smoke damage, shrapnel. Only a Miro was beyond restoration. A year’s suspended sentence: ten years later, people still tried to fight with him in bars. But his old self no longer seemed to have any relationship to his present one.

He had told George Lodge he would go up to his Forty-second Street studio to look at his new paintings that afternoon; by now it was too late to go to the gallery first. He took a cab uptown. The streets, even this early in the summer, were unbelievably filthy; the pavement seemed to be oozing its own sediment, the reek of grilling meat, hot dogs, shashlik, burnt and greasy, was like the smell of some garbage incinerator. He had to fight his way around the hustlers, past the electronic junk stores, to get into George’s building. The elevator stank of roach spray and mothballs.
The radio was turned up so loud he had to bang on the door over and over before George heard him and let him in. “George, George,” Victor said, “how can you listen to that junk?” He walked into the room. To work in such squalor. The reek of acetone, a tipsy brain-crumbling shrillness, almost knocked him off his feet. Spray paint, fixative, polyurethane.
No molecules resembling oxygen were left anywhere, the air conditioner was apparently out of order and the windows sealed shut. The 0 and CO2 forced out by the tougher, manmade particles, which lacerated the lungs as they floated here and there. George stood sulkily by the door, his long galoot face surly and elegant, as Victor pulled stuff from the racks. Scrawled on various half-finished canvases:

USED AFTER A NON-FINITE OR VERBLESS CLAUSE AT THE BEGINNING OF A SENTENCE: TO GET THERE ON TIME, SHE LEFT HALF AN HOUR EARLY.

USED BEFORE AND AFTER A NON-DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSE OR A PHRASE IN APPOSITION, WHICH GIVES MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE NOUN IT FOLLOWS: THE PENNINE HILLS WHICH HAVE BEEN A FAVORITE WITH HIKERS FOR MANY YEARS ARE SITUATED BETWEEN LANCASHIRE AND YORKSHIRE.

QUEEN ELIZABETH TWO, A VERY POPULAR MONARCH, CELEBRATED HER SILVER JUBILEE IN 1977.

Victor, did you get my letter?” George’s arms were too long, like a gibbon, shooting from imaginary tree to tree.
“What letter? Why don’t you get a chair, someplace I can sit?” He went and looked out the window. It was bleak here on Forty-second Street, no sign of vegetable life to prove that the season was spring. Across the way was a peep show, two nude women in neon; one, with the tube burnt out in her leg, flickered on and off. “Give me some paper.” George didn’t move. Victor peeled a piece of newsprint paper off the floor and took a gold pen from his lapel pocket. “I’m excited about what you’re doing, George, but I’d like to see you working from from extensive drawings, it would give me the feeling that you’ve spent time working these things out.. See, this is what Oldenburg did. He started with small sketches, let’s say for his giant cigarette. He made sketches, these today are worth a hundred thousand. Then he went out and found cigarettes, hundreds of butts. He studied these. Then he had a craftsman, a master craftsman, make a small cigarette butt from metal. Then he had medium-sized ones made from clay.”
“Victor, didn’t you read that letter I sent you?”
“Wait, just let me finish. Then you’ll talk. This is important, George. This could change your whole way of working. How Oldenburg worked, when he was finally ready, he built his giant cigarette butt in soft sculpture. Whether you like his work or not—”
“I like Oldenburg.”
“You have to agree that the man was a genius. So have the whole gamut, do you see what I’m getting at, here, George? You have the whole gamut, from sketches to paintings to the final soft sculpture; it’s not as if he just got an idea and slapped it onto canvas. When you’re working, you should do drawings first, then you should make the painting in squares. Each individual square, a segment of the painting, should be as complete and fully realized as the whole work. Go and look at Léger, George. He knew about composition. That’s who you could be like, if you spent a little more time on these things. In his excitement the thick, oily feeling rose up in his chest, as if the stomach contents were backing up the esophagus like a kitchen sink. He fumbled for a Tums.
“Victor, can I say something now?”
“What? George, I came all the way up here this afternoon, just to take a look at your work, and I can see you’re already on the defensive.”
“Victor, I’m trying to tell you: I sent you a letter listing twenty points that would have to change for me to stay with the gallery, and I don’t think you even read the letter.
“No, I haven’t read any letter! George, I just got back from Chicago, I had to spend all week getting ready for the Madrid art fair, I’m leaving for Madrid tomorrow—what’s your problem?”
“I don’t know if we should talk about it until you’ve read my letter. Basically, it’s about your attitude. I’ve seriously been considering leaving the gallery for a long time now, Victor. I don’t see how I can stay unless you have a change of attitude.”
“Attitude! What attitude! George, why don’t you come to me if you have problems? You go around complaining to your friends, this doesn’t make me look good.”
“How can I come to you, Victor, when I can’t even get into your office to see you? This is the first time you’ve come to my studio in eight months.”
“You’re not listening, Victor. Don’t you see yourself? How terrible you look?”
“I’m going to call you, George. I would love to stay and talk this through—”
“I don’t want to talk! I want you to read my letter!”
He could hear George flinging objects this way and that as he waited for the elevator. He would suggest to George the name of his old psychiatrist. George, whom three years ago he had found. working as a janitor, barely able to make enough to buy supplies. What did he want from him?
In the taxi he remembered it was Sistina’s birthday he hadn’t gotten her anything. There was something about going out to dinner that night with Schmuel—Sam—and some of her model friends. He looked in his appointment book. There was an opening around the corner he had promised to go and see and a dinner afterward for Monica Bell, a painter whom he had shown two years ago who was still working on new stuff.

. . . . .

He walked into the gallery rubbing his head; Leo, his brother, was standing stunned in front of one of the paintings at the far end. “Sasha,” he said to the blond, bored-looking girl who sat behind the front desk. He could feel her bristle as he got near. Literally begin to bristle. This fury, to be met with it in his own gallery! “I have to have something to eat, Sasha. Would you go around the corner and get me a cup of chili?”
“Madrid called,” she said. “They can’t get the paintings out of customs.”

Tama Janowitz, 1957.       Slaves of New York,1986

In the age of art-hype and inflation, where new dealers sell the new art of Warhol, Haring, Basquiat, Schnabel to the new millionaires of Wall Street, the stories of artists, dealers and gallery owners in Slaves of New York feature episodic tableaux of aspirational, egotistical, paranoid, crazy, immoral talented/less chancers, hustlers and potheads with an eye on fame and riches in 1980s urban Bohemia. The art world is a permanently shifting scenario of artists hyping themselves on the way up or out, jostling for recognition and the big exhibition, project, collector and commission, and most important of all – a nameplace at the right A-list post-exhibition dinner.  Reality and satire converge in the characters of on-edge neurotic Jewish art dealer Victor Okrent, overworked and underfunded, fighting a losing battle with his staff, gallery artists and the Betsy Brown Gallery, or the sleazy dealer, Stephen Borali. The artist Markey Mantello tries to persuade the wealthy collector Chuck Dade Dolger, boyfriend of his dealer Ginger Booth, to invest in his ‘Chapel of Jesus Christ as Woman’ in Rome, adjacent to Vatican. Chuck is already funding “…an environmental artist moving heaps of mud from one part of Montana to another.. a man attempting to get permission to cover the Golden Gate Bridge in Band Aids…a gal handcuffed to a Korean and a Dalmation making a videotape overy moment of their year chained together.” Chuck, in between feeding Marley obscene amounts of cholesterol packed breakfast, buys his picture ‘The Party of Beauty’, “..a big get together of all the beautiful people, the Venus of Milo, Aphrodite, Hebe, the Graces, Peri, Houri, Cupid, Apollo, Hyperion, Antinous, Narcissus – “ Another artist, Shash Stoz makes paintings based on the difference between good and evil, using cartoon images – Bahalooey, Chilly Willy, Bullwinkle, Mickey Mouse and various Byzantine characters. The rich, powerful and vulgar make the avant garde-artists run around like pimps and courtesans to satisfy their wealth and egos while the real money goes on the blue chip pictures of Roy Lichtenstein, Eric Fischl and Van Dyke Brown.

Martin Amis – The Coincidence of the Arts,1997

In this city?

The sign said Omni’s Art Material – For the Artist in Everyone. But everyone was already an artist. The coffeeshop waiters and waitresses were, of course, actors and actresse; and the people they served were all librettists and scenarists, harpists, pointillists, ceramicists, caricaturists, contrapuntalists. The little boys were bladers and jugglers. The little girls all ballerinas (bent over the tables in freckly discussions with their mothers and mentors). Even the babies starred in ads and had agents. And it didn’t stop there. Outside, sculptors wheelbarrowed chunks of rock over painted pavements past busking flautists, and a troupe of clowns performed mime, watched by kibitzers doing an ad lib and impro. And on and an and up and up. Jesters teetered by on ten foot stilts. Divas practiced their scales from tenement windows. The AC installers were installationists. The construction workers were all constructivists.

And for once, Sir Rodney Peel happened to be telling the truth: he was terribly busy. After many soggy years of artistic and sexual failure, in London, SW3 Rodney was now savouring their opposities, in New York. You could still see this failure in the darkened skin around his eyes (stained, scarred, blinded); you could still nose it in his pyjamas, unlaundered for fifteen years (when he got out of bed in the morning he left them leaning against the wall). But America had reinvented him. He had a title, a ponytail, a flowery accent, and a pliant paintbrush. He was an unattached heterosexual in Manhattan: something had to give. And Rodney now knew the panic of answered prayers. Like a bit-part player in a dream, he looked on as his prices kept doubling: all you needed was an aristocratic wag of the head, and a straight face. Under the floorboards of his studio, in brown envelopes, lurked ninety-five thousand dollars: cash. And every afternoon he was climbing into an aromatic bed, speechless, with his ears whistling like seashells.

Rodney still felt that he had a chance of becoming a serious painter. Not a good chance – but a chance. Even he could tell that his artistic universe, after ten months in New York, had undergone drastic contraction. The journey into his own nervous system, the groping after spatial relationships, the trawl for his own talent – all this, for the time being, he had set aside. And now he specialized. He did wives. Wives of wealthy professionals and executives: wives of the lions of Madison Avenue, wives of the heroes of Wall Street. His brush flattered and rejuvenated them, naturally; but this wasn’t especially arduous or even dishonest, because the wives were never first wives: they were second wives, third wives, subsequent wives. They gazed up at him righteously, at slender Sir Rodney in his smudged smock. ‘Perfect,’ he would murmur. ‘No. Yes. That’s quite lovely . . . ‘ One thing sometimes led to another thing; but never to the real thing. Meekly, his lovelife imitated his art. This wife, that wife. Rodney flattered, flirted, fumbled, failed. Then change came. Now, when he worked, his paint coagulated along traditional lines, and conventional curves. In between the sheets, though, Rodney felt the terrible agitation of the innovator.

Martin Amis,1949. The Coincidence of the Arts,1997