Love is never what you think. When a painter goes beyond the degree of intimacy that provides the connection between him and his newly-discovered muse, he is forced to undergo a re-evaluation of the true meaning of love. In a strange twist on the Dorian Gray theme, perhaps the artist steals the subject’s essence as love and art meld into one.
At the corner of my eye, something moved and I turned to see what it was. Fifty or sixty yards away from us on the edge of the sand, an old man was sitting on a bench, gazing towards the sea. The sound we were making must have caused him to jump and the movement startled me. Now his eyes were meeting mine, causing a jolt of recognition, even understanding, to explode in my heart. No, somewhere deeper. In my belly, from where it surged in a torrent of blood down through my legs and feet, and up into my chest, arms, fingers and at last into my mind. I felt as if I might faint. But I didn't. Instead I gazed at him in astonishment.
He was old, a thin wiry body wrapped in a green fisherman's jumper, faded cords protecting his legs. His hands were gnarled like the rocks, strong fingers burnt brown by the sun. But it was his face which captured me, even at such a distance, and never really let me go.
While on a vacation to rejuvenate a failing marriage, an artist encounters an unlikely muse in the form of an older man. An obsession quickly develops as the differing needs of the artist, his wife, and the object of his attention collide.
This short story is haunting, intense, and unlikely. At just about 15 pages, the author has delivered a stunningly gripping story about an artist and his obsessions. From the hints of the past such as the history between the artist and his wife and the wife’s caustic comments, the author suggests that the unnamed artist may often find these unlikely muses and devote more time than is healthy to them. Similarly, the artist slowly and inevitably becomes the sole caretaker of an older man, Peter, while using the man as a model for his work that is only now gaining success.
The author manages to use just a few words and descriptive phrases to convey intensity and emotion that is clearly felt. The impact of the artist’s need for Peter is surprising yet chilling in phrases such as, "There's no need for him [Peter] to see or speak to anyone else but me." The artist realizes that Peter fatigues easily while sitting for him, but the rush the artist feels is too addictive, too much to let go. He counters this by taking care of Peter yet knows he will paint the older man to his death.
The implications and subtle meaning go far beyond the obvious and continue to resonate well after the short story is done. Crisp, vivid prose works incredibly well with vibrant characters all uninhibited by the short length. For those that enjoy a fabulous short story that truly makes you think and leaves you wondering well after it’s done, I highly suggest Painting from Life. The themes of art, death, obsession, love, selfishness, and need are all played out beautifully in this complex and complicated story.
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