Grey-feathered gulls barked at the sway of the marina masts and a black cloud grew across the water. The artist snapped open the newspaper with a whip-crack across his folded knees and observed the sun’s descent into the burnt-honey haze at the horizon. The rub of cheap ink smudged the prints of his thumbs and ingrained on them the stale smell of recycled paper. He wrapped his slender fingers around the beer glass, moistening his palm with cold crystals of condensation. He raised the glass to his mouth and tasted only the bitter melt of the foam.
Reece Wilde’s latest masterpiece is perhaps the most stinging piece of satire to come from the controversial artist in years. ‘The Dirty Brexiteer’ is a step away from Wilde’s recent forays into watercolour, and the return to a more abstract style is a welcome return to form.
Wilde looked up to regard the changing hue of the sky. He couldn’t think of the last painting of his that wasn’t labelled a return to form. The article went on:
Wilde is a known student of the Cubist movement, and this is evident more here than in any of his previous work. The harsh angles and vivid, almost aggressive palette on show in the unnamed subject’s face are the product of a frustrated, albeit hugely masterful, creator. And the results, it cannot be argued, are astounding. ‘The Dirty Brexiteer’ is already causing a stir in the art world, and further cements the already concrete reputation of Brighton’s own prodigy.
Wilde raised the glass again and let the foam dissolve on his tongue as he shook his head. He wondered if the article had been written by a kid; an intern, perhaps, or an art student. Or just another of the blindfolded sheep-men behind their typewriters. I dance for the bears, he thought to himself, and the bears clap their stupid paws together because someone whispers to them that it is a dance and that they must clap.
‘It doesn’t look anything like your work,’ came a voice at his shoulder.
Wilde craned his neck and raised a slow, greying eyebrow to the chestnut, cat-like eyes of the waitress standing behind him. The lamp above the table cast a white glow on the crests of her olive cheeks. She stood with an empty tray tucked under one arm, and a ribbon of silky, raven-black hair fell across one eye.
Wilde regarded her and motioned to the chair opposite him. The waitress sat, her angled brows slightly turned in as she surveyed the artist.
‘You haven’t painted anything for a long time,’ she said at last.
Wilde smiled. So, one of my little rats has squeaked, he thought to himself.
‘Who have you been speaking to?’
She shook her head. ‘I’m just not as blind as everyone else, that’s all.’
Wilde’s forefinger skirted the rim of his glass. ‘And what do you know of art, exactly?’
‘I know that your true paintings are deeper than a six hundred page novel, and far more complex. I know that the way you mix colours takes my breath.’ She picked up the newspaper from the table and examined the black and white photograph. ‘And I know that your last three pieces were not painted by anyone so talented, unless you painted them with the brush between your toes, and a blindfold over your eyes, and a worm burrowing into your brain.’
Wilde observed the almond eyes before him, the cool expression.
‘Why are you doing it?’
Wilde gazed at the last heat haze of the disappearing sun. The truth was, he didn’t know why he was doing it anymore. An experiment, he told himself at first. But now what? It had backfired spectacularly.
‘If only everyone had half your wits,’ he said finally, his sentence trailing off unfinished.
The balcony was filling quickly as the lamps across the waterfront flickered into life.
‘I need to get back to work,’ the girl declared, standing up.
‘Come to my studio,’ Wilde said, fishing a card from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. ‘Tomorrow morning, open house.’
The girl scrutinized him.
‘Take the card,’ Wilde said calmly, his eyes fixed on hers. ‘I still have some pieces of my own.’
The girl took the card. She turned towards a table of new arrivals, looking back once to see the artist’s eyes still trained on her as he stood up to leave.
Wilde strolled the length of the marina in the fading amber light, his cane clipping the wooden boardwalk as he went. He came to the stairs of his basement studio at the end of the promenade that ran from the marina to the pier.
‘Ah,’ Wilde said, opening the door and finding the lights already turned on. ‘Found your way in, did you?’