The Ghost Painter

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2012-01-28
  • Publisher: Textstream
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The light was white-hot, shimmering all around her, but paradoxically Adelaide Moran felt ice-cold. The air was humid, as in those days long ago in the East when it had been necessary to switch on a lamp or two in order to paint her scenes of New York.
She seemed to be in a tunnel. Everything was indistinct, faraway yet somehow near. Her vision, so imperative to her success as a famous artist, had served her well until, at age ninety, it finally dimmed. Now, at ninety eight, she felt like a sleepwalker, having to reach out in front of herself with long, skeletal fingers to feel her way due to being half-blind. And her fingers, once so clever with brush, paint, charcoal, and clay, were now arthritic and unable to create.
Suddenly a voice boomed through the light. "I've been expecting you. Welcome."
"Who's there?" she answered, confused. "Whoever you are, I want it clearly understood that I am not staying. I am extremely busy. I must finish my masterpiece. Surely you understand. After all, I am Adelaide Moran." This was not at all where she wanted to be, with her masterpiece still unfinished, the artwork she was sure would make her even more famous than she was now, ensuring her legacy in the history of art. Yes, my masterpiece, my master work, she thought, whose subject matter comes alive and is magically animated on the canvas. It will be like no other painting ever created.
"I know, Addie. I've known you all your life," said the voice.
She hesitated, her hands now dropping at her sides. "Then you know that I've always loved light, especially the light of New Mexico's high desert, but really, the light here seems to be overdoing it. Look, whoever you are, I can't stay. I must leave to finish my masterpiece."
"It's Adelaide Moran, Great Spirit," boomed the voice. "She says she can't stay. She must leave to finish her masterpiece." The voice broke into laughter, tinkling like a bell and echoing endlessly in the ether.
"To whom are you speaking?" Adelaide demanded, stamping her foot, annoyed at the laughter. The laughter ceased. Encouraged, she continued, "I need to speak to someone higher up than you, whoever you are." She brushed an unbidden tear away from her eye with the back of her ice-cold hand. For heaven's sake, competency is lacking everywhere these days, she thought.
Then the realization struck her like a clap of thunder before a desert storm. Could this place be, she wondered, Oh, no! Not yet!
In her long white cotton nightgown, she felt herself floating over a mass of fluffy clouds like ones she'd so excitedly painted plein air in her landscapes of the Southwest. Soon she stopped and hovered in one spot, tremulous, like a hummingbird whose wings whir in contemplation of a quick nip of nectar.
She looked below her. There, distraught by her bed, was Ramon. Oh, Ramon! So dark and handsome and still young, she thought. He knew how much I wanted to finish painting my masterpiece and reach my goal of living to one hundred. Dear, difficult, but strong Ramon. So like myself, which is one reason why I love him.
But, she wondered, who is that on the bed? With horror she recognized the gaunt, ridge-lined shrunken features with silver hair upon the pillow. No! Not me! Surely the Great Spirit will grant my request to return to finish my masterpiece, she reassured herself. After all, I have worked so hard to be recognized for my talent, unlike my cousin Mercedes, and have given so much beauty to the world in my lifetime.
Adelaide pulled herself up as straight as she could, spread her arms wide, looked around her, and in as loud a tone as she could muster, pleaded, "Great Spirit, I must paint again. I must complete the masterpiece I was working on before all this. It was going to be the pinnacle of my career, better than anything I'd ever done before. Better than any artist on earth could accomplish. Such a large canvas. Belgian linen. Still waiting to be worked on in my studio at La Semilla." She waited for a response, but there was only silence and endless light.
She recalled how frustrating it had been to try to paint with her eyesight failing and how she'd tried to direct Ramon to help with applying colors. Already a bright cerulean blue had been blended with some titanium white for the sky in an area two inches from the top of the six-foot-high canvas. She knew the result was not yet up to her standards but the work on the huge canvas had brought back pleasant memories of a period in her life, when, as a young art student, she had painted large stage sets in New York City.
But, she thought, if I do manage to finish the masterpiece I envision it will be like none I'm known for. It will have people in it and be more animated. Years ago, at the Art Students League, the famous artist Robert Henri encouraged me to paint portraits, but I didn't feel it was my calling. Then, one day at my studio in La Semilla, Ramon showed me a video of art works from California's Laguna Beach Arts Festival. Clasping her bony hands together, she remembered how, on the festival's stage, live people had posed like statues to create tableaus for the audience to view until the lights dimmed then came up again to reveal another different tableau. She then realized she might be able to create a painting that would even go a step further than the tableaus of the festival. She had asked herself, Why can't people, mountains, animals, whatever is in a painting, appear animated to viewers so that they can experience the subject matter as real, feel the air, smell the scents, hear the sounds, and interact with any people? I'm sure we can pull it off.
She recalled Ramon speculating, "If this could be done it would be different from a movie or even interactive television because the experience would last for as long as viewers want to be engaged with the artwork and it became static again." Ramon is a genius, thought Adelaide. But so am I! Such a masterpiece would guarantee me a significant place in art history, putting me way ahead of my nemesis, Georgia O'Keeffe. If it weren't for Steiglitz getting her career going the way he did, she's be just like all the other Art Students League graduates who had to fend for themselves in order to stand out from the crowd. I, for one, made it entirely on my own and am proud of it.
Adelaide started walking toward what she perceived to be the end of the tunnel, squinting as she felt her way along with hands outstretched, deep in her musings. However, we would need help with the figures. I certainly can't see like I used to, and figures were never my forte. But even from this place I'm sure I can direct things on earth with the supernatural guidance of a shaman in New Mexico. What I need, she thought, is a talented young woman artist whose soul, body, and painting ability, particularly in portraiture, I can "borrow" for a time and influence to paint like me.
She raised her arms, embracing the light, which was now pure white like that of a primed linen canvas awaiting the touch of genius. As she did so she thought, But I'll need Ramon's help to find such a woman. "Can you hear me, Ramon?" she called, her scratchy voice reverberating throughout the bright mists.

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