On an exotic summer Sunday I step into the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and head not toward a vision but a sound.
“It’s the light or, rather, the lack of light in The Outskirts of Paris that makes this dirt road and the man in it faceless and gray and in need of southern France sunlight which my incandescent brain will soon enliven with images of imminent death,” says the painter, exhaling on canvas.
“I’m tired of always hearing about you and not only from others but from you, especially you, forever painting yourself and even fields and buildings and rooms to reflect the agony you want everyone to know about,” says the man in the road. “I ran into you too early, in 1886, before you understood portraiture and transcended the blurry shortcut of impressionistic faces. Had you been more advanced, you’d have painted me as gritty and disturbed as you later portrayed yourself and others, and I’d be on book covers and posters and in magazines and exhibition catalogues and celebrated as a glamorous misfit instead of a dreary, unidentifiable poor man in one of your journeyman works.”
“Drop that stick, I warn you,” says the painter.
“You want the stick, here it is,” he says, striking from canvas.
I rush to the fallen painter. “Are you all right?”
“Why don’t you ask me?” says the man in the road.