One of the first lessons they teach you in drawing human female anatomy is
that breasts are, surprisingly, located at mid-torso. You would not
believe some of the output from my male colleagues-- those purported
lovers and aficionados of the female form-- who working
from memory and experience, manage to put their women's breasts at
chin-level. Large and obscene, vying with the neck to prop up those
sultry and vacuous heads they are also so fond of rendering.
Her breasts are perfect, of course.
She is gentle curves and soft shadows. Luminescent pale skin crowned
with nipples of furious rose. There are two primary techniques to
sketching with a charcoal pencil and on her breasts I use both.
First with the point, sharp and precise, to define the boundaries of her
femininity. Second with the broad side of the lead, flat and smooth,
to give roundness and fullness to their shape and volume.
It is with the greatest of pleasure, and the most intimate of caresses,
that I pull her image forth from the emptiness of my canvas.
* * * * *
Picasso was a lech, but he had a way with the ladies.
He was charming and moody, seducing women into his bed and then slandering
them on his canvasses. The art historians track his chronology by
period: Blue, Rose, Cubist. I account for him by mistress: transient
Madeleine, fat Olga, disturbed Dora. They say he spent his life
unfulfilled in the search for love. He himself lamented that he had
no true friends, only lovers.
When I announced to my mentor that I was entering into my Pablo period, in
search of my own Galatea, he laughed.
"Why the fuck do you need to go trolling for titties? Just lose
the shirt and paint in front of a goddamn mirror."
He's a brilliant man, but sometimes it's difficult to tell.
* * * * *
I usually set up my easel by the Museum of Natural History because women
are somehow hormonally or genetically drawn to the Hope Diamond, and there
I'm never without subjects. But this morning I was feeling whimsical
and so decided to set up near the Air and Space
"I'm telling you, Scully, Hubble was a cover-up."
The voice is so unexpectedly near, that I drop my pencil.
Embarrassed, I bend to pick it up but she's there a fraction of a moment
faster. I'm definitely staring as she hands it back to me.
"Oh wow. Nice pictures."
The voice snaps me out of my second trance and I look up to see a tall,
rakish man peering intently at my canvas. He reaches out to touch
"Don't!" I don't know if it's the note of panic in my voice or
my desperate tug at his pant cuff that stops him. "It smudges.
And I don't want... uh... for it to get all over you." I
He looks like he's about to protest but the woman-- Scully, he called
her-- cuts him off. "Mulder, leave it alone."
Rebuked, he turns his attention to the stack of semi-finished canvasses
leaning against a nearby bench. "Hey, these are pretty good!
"That would be me." I stand up and walk over to him.
He looks me up and down intently. I figure him for a Georgetown
shrink. Or a Chinatown psychic.
"You don't look like a Jericho."
"Funny. You look exactly like a Mulder."
He gets this gleam in his eye. Shit. He likes his women
feisty. So I try to change the subject to something decidedly
uninteresting to him. "That one's done in an early Spanish
Baroque and this one here-" I flip to another canvas, "is
the same model but done in French Neoclassical."
"Whoa. Go back a few." He points to a circular piece
depicting two women sitting side by side: the one holding a harp has her
arm draped lovingly around the other holding a pen and journal.
"What is that?" Shit, again. He's a pervert, too.
"Angelica Kauffman. The Artist in the Character of Design
Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry." Scully explains,
before I get the chance to. "Or at least it's a pretty good
Hot damn. I think I'm staring again, and this time I really don't
* * * * *
Polite cocktail banter is a necessary skill in this business that just
barely eludes me. It's endless, really, the circuit of openings,
exhibitions, honorariums, and good old-fashioned clusterfucking.
Well, fuck capitalism. Fuck consumerism. And, goddammit, fuck
television. Modernity has reduced the profession to speculation, pop
culture, and sound bites. Warhol wasn't an artist
so much as a showman.
But I'm not so principled-- or dumb-- to be blind to the truth of it.
I've got my canned list of 'most popular question' answers. Society
and media are nothing if not predictable. The most common question--
and one they practically coach you to answer in school-- is: "Which
artist has influenced you the most?"
I am always dead honest with this one. Honore Daumier. Working
in the shadow of great contemporaries such as Ingres and Delacroix,
Daumier achieved far more recognition as a political cartoonist than a
painter. His style was simple, structured, and small compared to
the sweeping heroic works of Delacroix and Ingres. My favorites are
his numerous tragic-comic studies of Don Quixote.
This, of course, goes over like a lead balloon with the patron crowd.
They prefer to hear of artists they recognize and can attach coffee table
books and dollar signs to.
Thank God for the NRA... er... NEA.
* * * * *
I literally fall off my stool when she shows up at my studio.
But then again, she's done nothing but surprise me since we met. I
think even her friend Mulder was a bit flabbergasted when she decided to
buy my Kauffman variation. So it seemed completely natural to give
her my card and offer to show her some of my other work.
But damn if I thought she'd actually come.
She walks around my studio slowly and methodically examining my canvasses.
She hasn't said anything beyond a perfunctory greeting. I want to
hear her voice again, so I decide to make conversation.
"So who's your favorite artist?" I nearly slap myself at
the inanity. "I mean, uh, you seem to know a lot about
art." Shit. Shit. Shit.
Her lips quirk into a small, amused, devastating smile. "Nobody
in particular. I'm a big admirer of women painters."
"Now would that be women who paint? Or painters of women?"
"Both." A flicker of the devil in her eyes.
It's a struggle, but I manage to remain in my seat this time.
"Yeah? Well you've come to the right place."
"I most certainly have."
Damn. It is definitely time to invest in some good plush carpeting.
* * * * *
Eat your heart out Leo di-fucking-Caprio.
If Kate Winslet were half as hot as the vision before me, Titanic would
have had a happy ending. He would have tried much harder to get on
that floating board to be near this body.
There would have been a lot more room for him, too.
It took a while but eventually I was able to relax enough around her to
find my powers of speech and unleash my irresistible charm. I
ascertained that she was some sort of scientist working for the
government. She didn't seem to want to talk about it much so I
She did want to talk about my work though: what I was doing, why I was
doing it. We go through every canvas I have at the studio, taking
turns deconstructing the elements and motivation. I have often
wondered if poets were as deep as academics interpret them to be.
Now I know they aren't. Dana has an insight into my art that fills
me with a sense of unbelievable accomplishment and pride. It is both
empowering and intimidating.
It is during one of these moments of confidence and infatuation that I ask
her to pose nude for me. It is followed immediately by a moment of
shock and panic when she agrees.
* * * * *
Like Picasso, Van Gogh also had life-long women troubles. But he
wasn't nearly as debonair about them. Instead, he lived his life in
a constant state of inferiority, more apt to be jilted than to jilt.
Psychologists have written copiously about his stillborn brother, born
exactly a year to the day before him-- also named Vincent-- and the
resultant trauma of being the replacement child. His dying words
were "La tristesse durera toujours."
Sadness shall last forever.
I find his biography monumentally depressing. But there is also a
part of me that resonates with it. The part of me that is constantly
searching-- yet one step behind. The part of me that is afraid my
place in things has already been usurped by one smarter, more driven, more
doomed than me.
* * * * *
I'm impatient, I always have been. There was a time when I affected
an exaggerated restlessness and I broke things on purpose. Lots and
lots of things. Because I fancied myself a tortured and
temperamental genius, and that is what they did to express themselves.
But it became too de rigueur and too expensive so now I just mumble under
my breath or swear profusely.
I'm mumbling now, because swearing would be rude with her in the room.
It's her hair that's giving me fits, that lovely pyrotechnic red. I
glower disgustedly at my pencil: you make me impotent. Gray. I
press harder. Slate. I press even harder, practically
embedding the lead into the fibers of the paper. Black. Not
Her blue eyes regard me calmly and curiously from across the room.
Jesus. Blue. I step away from the canvas.
"Do you need me to move again? Maybe lean back a bit?"
"It's not that. I just-" I pause, frustrated. "It's
"Yeah. It's red."
She laughs. A clear, sweet, bubbling laugh. "Good God, I
should hope so."
Shrugging my shoulders, I hold out my pencil sheepishly. "Don't
do red too good." I drawl.
"I'm sure you have something here that's more appropriate."
It's not really the color, I realize. There's an essence and a truth
in this vision that I'm not capturing. That I just can't put a
Oh Christ, that's it.
"Uh, Dana? Mind if I run my fingers through your hair?"
Shit. That came out sounding wrong.
Whatever she's really thinking, she masks with a perfect Mona Lisa smile.
I close my eyes to give full sensory priority to my fingertips.
Although, by the time I reach skin, I'm up to my second knuckle in thick
soft tresses. I start just above her hairline, mapping the
topography of her scalp slowly back to the nape of her neck. I find
that when I press down gently with a slight circular motion she actually
growls, unconsciously I'm sure. I repeat this as often as I can,
careful not to tip her off to my ruse.
Let me tell you what red feels like. It is feather-light, yet
powerful. There is vivaciousness at its core that counters my caress
with supple resistance yet seduces me with tender warmth. It is
separate and distinct: a thousand different pinpoints of sensation dancing
coquettishly across my skin.
I am very proud of my hands and the control I wield when I sketch or
paint. But I can't stop them from shaking now.
* * * * *
There is an emptiness to the visceral reaction I get when looking at
pornographic art. Something akin to the difference between
masturbation and making love. Not so with certain pieces of
"serious" art. And whether they intend it or not, some
artists have the divine touch of capturing on canvas a look or gesture
that can instantly inflame me with desire.
Overbeck's "Italia and Germania" is one such masterpiece.
Two women, fully clothed, and leaning into each other. One-- with a
look of utter devotion-- is tenderly holding the hand of the other-- who
is regarding their clasped hands with obvious contentment.
That I refuse to bow down to the altar of explicitness when rendering love
scenes has become a bit of a joke within my circle. And I've been
told that showing a little more skin or removing my veil of euphemistic
symbolism would not be entirely remiss.
And that it might actually help me move more art.
But the real reason for my hesitation is not so much modesty as
motivation. What makes "Italia and Germania" so powerful
is not the grappling and twining of limbs on-canvas but the hint and
suggestion of deep and great passion off.
And being unable to imagine that passion makes it difficult to allude to.
* * * * *
It's not long before I'm leaning into her, the rest of me drawn to her as
my fingers were. I inhale deeply, pleased to find a clean, nautical
scent. I knew it wouldn't be floral, or spicy, or earthy.
And I really wasn't expecting her to reek of couture either. The
simple, understated elegance of her perfume is perfect for her.
It's so easy to continue downward. To the pale curve and ripple of
her shoulder. I can't stop myself. I close the distance and
place a soft kiss against her skin. With my eyes closed, it is
almost like a dream.
The sharp gasp and sudden tension under my touch remind me that it isn't.
Oh shit. "Dana, I am so sorry."
She doesn't pull away but she doesn't relax either. I remove my
fingers from her hair, cursing myself for a thousand different kinds of
"I-I don't know what got into me."
"Don't." Her voice is low and soft.
"I'm sorry. I never meant-"
She places her fingers on my lips and it's all I can do not to take them
in and taste them. "I meant don't apologize."
Now there are just a few possible interpretations to that statement and my
despondency latches onto the most damning: oh Christ, she isn't even
giving me the chance to defend myself. So it comes as a big shock to
me when she grasps my hands firmly in hers and moves them back into the
tangle of her hair.
She smiles at me tolerantly. "And don't stop, either."
It's funny how different context can completely change the way we perceive
things. Red feels entirely different when coupled with arousal.
Especially arousal with the possibility of deliverance. The
sensations being gathered at my fingertips are sending insistent messages
to the rest of my body. First and foremost: kiss her, you fool.
I curl my fingers instinctively, grasping handfuls of her hair. She
tilts her head back in response and I bend down to her lips. There's
a moment before we touch, instantaneous and infinite, where every
sensation I have of her comes rushing to the fore. The Technicolor
lunacy of red and blue so vivid they would be stylized if not for her
possessing them. The warm, silky strength of her hair grasped firmly
in my fists. The low growl of her pleasure rumbling softly and
unconsciously. The fresh, open smell of the ocean enveloping and
And to the symphony, I add this kiss. She tastes like poetry:
delicate, graceful, and sweet.
* * * * *
It is the irony of extremism-- and a testament to repression-- that the
most devout artists of the Late Gothic period managed to produce some of
the most erotic art in history. The strict moralist Hieronymus Bosch
intended his vivid pieces to serve as visual sermons. Yet his most
famous work, "The Garden of Delights," comes across primarily as
a visual orgy of carnal desire.
I can attest to that power of repression. Especially in the wake of
a void that can only be described as spiritual deprivation.
But with Dana, there is only indulgence.
My touch across her skin is reverent and worshipful. And as absorbed
as my senses are with the nearness of her, I force myself to memorize the
way the light plays across her body as she arches beneath my caress.
My lips trace a path of kisses from her jaw to the very tip of her left
breast. I know instinctively-- even as my tongue circles her nipple,
hard and straining-- that I will never be able to fully capture in art the
completeness of this moment. The fluttering of her heart. The
almost-silent sigh escaping from her parted lips.
I wait until the last possible moment to enter her, banking my hunger and
desire to the point where I am blind with wanting her. Her hips
respond to my thrust, bucking against my hand in rhythmic need. And
the fluid ease of penetration is immediately overwhelmed by powerful,
clenching spasms that draw me in and hold me close.
I give her time to collect herself, withdrawing slowly and gently from
this most intimate embrace. I press my lips softly to her neck and
lay my head against her shoulder. My fingers, still slick from her
passion, trace a familiar pattern across her belly.
"What did you write?" Her voice husky and unsteady.
She gathers me in her arms and as the cacophony of my senses gentle to
normal, I let the serenity of the moment lull me to sleep.
* * * * *
* * * * *