Painting The Bars On The Cage

Rosey hates being limited by the edges of the canvas.


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Length: words

Notes: I spent an afternoon reading about the history of abstract art for an entirely unrelated writing project. While reading about Piet Mondrian’s work with composition and form, I felt this overwhelming sadness at the thought of even surrealists being limited by a rectangular canvas.

Then I realised I was being a pretentious twat and wrote some slash instead.

Rosey and Bauer are made-up characters. I didn’t make them up, nor am I associated in any way with the lovely people who did.

Painting The Bars On The Cage by justjen

The canvas is terrifyingly huge. Still blank, it speaks only of its expense, of another painting hurriedly finished and sold simply to pay for this one. Rosey stands it on the floor, leaning the highest edge against the wall, and sits cross-legged on the floor before it. Pictures the sketches they’ve made over the past month, the elements they’ll combine to make up this monstrosity. Assembles them in his head like mosaic tiles. Without thinking, his right hand stretches up, holding a place for Bauer’s sketch of a crater-pocked half-moon near the top right of the canvas. His left hovers over the bottom left corner where he imagines his own faceless figure should be placed, its arm reaching upwards.

He finds the idea of the figure reaching to take the face from the moon both comically sentimental and sinister. He and Bauer have talked at length about form, and the restrictiveness of the physical body as represented by realists and impressionists and even the cubists, the way a body is only ever one thing, assembled the same way time and time again, as if God had run out of ideas too quickly. They have dreamed of Indian folk art, of figures with six arms and animal heads, and awakened to talk in hurried voices of alteration and expansion, still finding it all irritatingly restrictive. The ideas, the mind, the soul of everything still contained inside one set form.

They have sketched, scraps of paper assembled and rearranged on table-tops and then on floors as they grow and spread to form one huge thing, Bauer’s drawings pulsing with life, Rosey’s reaching beyond each frame into the next. Sketches have been jumbled and moved until Bauer screamed his frustration at the knowledge that ultimately there could only be one way and why did he have to commit? Rosey silenced him, left him stunned when he shouted, one harsh bark that “It’s all fucking rectangles anyway” before he stalked out of the room, out into the street. Ignoring the angry mutterings of the passersby who pushed past him, he looked up at the sky and tried to work out what shape it was, loved the way it disappeared behind the buildings but still carried on beyond.

Rosey found him quickly. Stood next to him and looked up, allowing him silence for several seconds before asking, low voice right by his ear, “Would you rather paint on plates?” He snickered, and Bauer took his hand, leading him back inside without protest.

“It’s the edges,” he’d explained, and Bauer didn’t even need to nod.

Even with the size of this new canvas, there are still boundaries, and as he pictures the as-yet unformed image, he feels a sympathetic sort of claustrophobia on their behalf. He wants distance, millions of miles between the faceless figure and the moon it reaches towards. Wonders if he can paint the figure in the bottom left and the moon halfway down the street. Feels bad for Mondrian, trying to set art free by painting the bars on its cage.

His hands are still outstretched towards the opposing corners when Bauer enters the room, moving close enough that Rosey can feel heat by his shoulder.

“Too obvious,” Bauer admonishes, taking hold of his right wrist and moving it down and in.

“They’re not opposites,” he agrees. “The man, the moon, just two parts of one thing, separated but still…” Bauer squeezes his hand briefly. With no one else around, they don’t need to finish the thought aloud. “I want the distance, though.”

The knowledge is there, automatic like breathing, in his head. One idea, one soul, can extend beyond the physical boundaries that God or Nature has imposed. Bauer knows it. Dull things like canvas and paints are just too stupid to accept such an idea, he feels

“Perhaps sculpture…” Bauer whispers, sitting beside him, still holding on to his hand. Suddenly he can feel where the moon should be painted, beyond his own reach but Bauer moves his own right hand and there, that’s where it should go.

Together they pencil in marks on the canvas, placeholders, committing the idea before it gets lost again.

“It’s still a rectangle,” he grouses when they’re done. He sounds childish; they’ve made progress tonight and Bauer is stepping back from the canvas, announcing the day’s work finished.

“Unless you find a way to paint the air, it’ll have to do,” Bauer tells him, taking the pencil from his hand and pocketing it so Rosey can’t change his mind about the composition tonight. He allows himself to be led out of the studio towards the bed where he’d never intended to stay more than one night, all those months ago.

“Limitations,” he begins as Bauer sets about pulling off Rosey’s shirt. “I want… something beyond…” It’s a conversation they’ve had many times over the past few weeks, so that now he can cut it down to a few words, knowing Bauer will fill in the gaps. He remembers his first sketch of the faceless figure, Bauer voicing Rosey’s own unspoken questions, Why should a face always be at the top, always looking one way? Why should all of the man be stuck inside one body?

Why is he bound so wretchedly in one body?

Rosey knows he has seen things that his own eyes haven’t looked at. Even now, with his eyes closed, he knows how his own body looks to Bauer as it is stretched out on the bed, knows how Bauer is mapping the contours of his muscles, imagining Rosey’s own outstretched right arm on the canvas. As they wind around each other on the bed, Rosey feels the heat on his skin from Bauer’s body and thinks about sculpture, suddenly struck with an image of branches, tendrils, reaching out in all directions, overlapping, moving (movement’s important, he remembers). When the wet heat splashes across his own stomach, he has to look down to realise that it’s not his own, that he’s still hard, and as Bauer buries his head in the crook of Rosey’s neck, exhausted, Rosey laughs out loud at the thought of Breton’s ‘man cut in half’ and wonders if this is what he meant. If Breton might even be disappointed by the physical surrealisation of his own genius.

He holds Bauer close and thinks that maybe he doesn’t need to show the distance between the figure and the moon.

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