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Taking Art Seriously

Sometimes a painting is just a painting. In the gutter? It ain't always just. Gutteral Screams continues.

Taking Art Seriously by Jack Strange, based on an email from Steve Davidson

Back in the 90s I lived in New Brunswick, NJ. There was a small diner just two blocks from my rental and I frequently went there for coffee in the morning and lunch a few times a week.
As a regular, I soon had my own booth they’d sit me in.
I also had my own waitress. She was called Carrie and she always served me. We got into the habit of exchanging pleasantries whenever I placed my order. Nothing deep, just stuff like:
“What’ve you got planned for this weekend?”
“I’m going to Edison to see my parents. How about you?”
“Working, unfortunately. Still, mustn’t grumble.”
There was a painting on the wall of my booth and I spent a lot of my time looking at it.
In the upper right, just off-centre, was a farmhouse. Dominating the left of the painting was a brown, weathered barn, one of its doors partially ajar, allowing you to see the darkness within. Between the house and the barn was an open field of wheat.
One day as she took my order, Carrie saw me staring at it.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I do, very much.”
“What is it about it you find so appealing?”
I smiled, gestured at the painting, and said:
“You can’t hear the scream coming from the barn.”
A different waitress brought my order over to the booth.
I ate lunch, noting that Carrie was keeping to the other side of the diner, doing her level best to avoid my gaze.
I ought to take more care over what I say in future, I thought. Sometimes I make folk feel uncomfortable without meaning to.
When I’d finished my meal I left a hefty tip and a hastily scribbled note:
“Please make sure Carrie gets to share this tip and tell her I didn’t mean to upset her. What I said was just a joke in very poor taste.”
Before leaving my seat I made sure she was in the kitchen, so I wouldn’t have to walk past her, possibly causing embarrassment on my way to the exit, and I left the place quickly, without looking back.
As I walked the two blocks to my rental, I reflected on the fact that it’d been a mistake ever to get into the habit of speaking to Carrie. I’m a very private person, even though I have achieved fame of sorts, and I like to maintain a degree of anonymity.
I resolved to eat at a different diner in future, and to never repeat the mistake of getting familiar with a waitress.
When I got home I carefully locked the door and bolted it, as I can’t do with interruptions while I’m working.
One of the reasons I’d chosen the apartment was for its northern aspect. This guaranteed good lighting conditions throughout the day.
The walls were covered in sketches and detailed ink-drawings of muscle structures, skeletal joints, and internal organs - intestines, livers, lungs, hearts, and so forth.
They’d all been made by me, and they weren’t for sale; I can’t bear to part with my anatomical works, which I create for my own satisfaction.
Perhaps I flatter myself, but I like to think that these works were of such exceptional quality that they might have come close in standard to those of Leonardo da Vinci. Indeed, some of my paintings have, on occasion, been compared to renaissance masterpieces.
Painters today don’t take the trouble to familiarise themselves with anatomy to the extent that was commonplace in the past. This is why anything they do featuring the human form is of a lesser standard.
It is my belief – a belief which, incidentally, was shared by the greatest artists in history - that only by knowing what lies beneath the skin can you hope to create a decent drawing or painting of a person. You have to work from the inside out, as it were, revealing in a portrait the sinews, tendons, and, of course, character of your subject.
Landscapes and portraits are what pay my bills. I have made something of a name for myself with them in New Brunswick art circles, although a waitress in a diner couldn’t be expected to know that. Nor, indeed, could many art lovers – I’ve taken care throughout my life to avoid being photographed, and I sell everything I produce through an agent. So, although my output fetches high prices, and my success as an artist is assured, I am almost unknown and unknowable, in many important respects.
The painting in the diner was a favourite of mine because it was one of the first paintings I’d sold. Moreover, the farm it depicted was highly significant to me, because I’d spent some time sketching in the barn.
Anyway, that afternoon I put all negative thoughts about Carrie to one side, and made a detailed drawing of a functioning kidney.
The young man who was helping me wasn’t in any position to protest, being bound and gagged.
Living organs are so much more informative to the serious artist than those of cadavers.


Jack Strange has had a varied career. He’s worked in a morgue, dug holes for a living, shifted heavy things on and off trucks, sold advertising space, and was, for a while, a lawyer. Jack’s favorite authors include Russell H. Greenan, Jerzy Kosinski, Jim Thompson, and William Burroughs. He’s married with two adult daughters. His noir crime thriller Manchester Vice is due out in November 2017. For more details see his author page with Coffin Hop Press: https://coffinhop.com/2017/07/08/noirvellas . If you want to get in touch with Jack, you can email him at : jack-strange@outlook.com . Visit his website:https://jackstrangewriter.blogspot.co.uk/