I am interviewing an artist who had recently become famous – in my opinion – due to a freak occurrence. He had gifted a painting to his celebrity friend who had then at some point gone on to post a selfie with the painting in the background. The painting was not completely visible, but you could see a profile of a man. Fans thought it might be the love of her life. So when they began prodding her, and she tweeted that it was some ‘great piece of art she had received as a gift from an artist called Peru’, they went overboard in showing their love. Now her fans were his fans.
‘Hello Peru sir.’ I had learned that he did not like being called by his full name Perumal Swaminathan.
He grunted and parted his lips just enough to let me know he had attempted a smile.
‘I’m told that as a child you loved music. But later, as you grew older, you gravitated towards art. In fact you became a full-time artist very recently. So would you like to shed some light on your childhood and what inspired you towards a life in art?
I stared at him blankly for a few minutes and then continued as if he had given me a satisfactory answer. ‘I see. So how would you describe this new…’
‘Meta-physical.’ He interrupts, as if to let me know he has already figured out my question and that his mind works faster. I consider turning my question around and then decide not to.
‘Meta-physical, what do you exactly mean by that?’ I prod.
‘hmmmm…….On paper it is but mere liquid arranged in a certain way. Molecules. Molecules of paint that are organised to create a form. But that form is not the painting. That is the physical part. What I am expressing is deeper…’
I’m still processing the fact that he actually refused to talk about his inspiration. My journalist ego was bruised.
He continues, ‘so the form brings to your mind a physical reference and the idea brings the emotional context.’
I want to walk across and slap his silly head. Wasn’t an artist supposed to be high on empathy?
Instead I say, ‘Ah I see. That was profound. I’m still trying to grasp all the facets of what you said so that I can faithfully convey them to my readers.’
After a few seconds, I say, ‘Yeah, so a little about your latest painting.’
Calling it a painting was an exaggeration. It was a blank canvas with what looked like a grey-coloured, beach shack on one corner and then some fingerprint smudges of black paint on the edge of the canvas. Quite frankly, to me, it looked like the bum had smoked-up while he was sitting on the beach and was so taken in by the view that he decided to paint it immediately. But then realised he didn’t have the inclination nor the technique to take it any further. Bored, he eventually rolled up the canvas and crashed out on the beach.
I continue, ‘So this little hut and the vast emptiness that you have so beautifully depicted by the empty canv…I mean the white space, what does this signify?’
He parts his lips, this time for a slight grin. The tramp is probably laughing inside at how his laziness is being interpreted as an artistic choice or leap of imagination.
I want to say ‘Loafer Perumal…, scrounger, get some paint out and try to finish the painting first. And why have you left fingerprint smudges on the edge, you clumsy oaf? What are your paw prints supposed to indicate in your masterpiece – that humans are fallible?
He is watching me intently as if realising that I was getting carried away.
He says, ‘the hut is our attempt to make a space for ourselves in this vast universe. The white space is the multidimensional space in which we are located. We do not realise this.’
Why can’t he just tell me the truth: that he is struggling to cope with the fact that he is a celebrity for absolutely no reason. That the hut was the most he could muster. Did he not know that you need to be an accomplished painter with great technique who then, because of a change in ideology and inspiration, goes on to develop a minimalist style? Or was this art: you could be an idiot who never picked up a paint brush before but have the confidence to put a scribble that looked like a hut and then sit there with a far-reaching gaze and that itself was an expression, an artistic thought?
Nevertheless, I recover in time to acknowledge that what he had said may strike a chord with my readers, so I make a note and I slightly rephrase and read out aloud, ‘We do not realise how vast and multidimensional our universe is: this is demonstrated by our naive attempt at creating permanent structures in our perceived three-dimensional place.’
He happily mumbles, ‘Yes, yes, now you are beginning to see’.
Oh ho ho. He was waiting for the light to dawn upon me. This is the problem with law. The only way for me to cleanse myself of the frustration I was feeling was if I could pound him to a paste in a chutney stone. Instead I settled with imagining myself dipping his face in some paint and dragging him over a 10 X 10 canvas. My own version of a Jackson Pollock painting.
I have finished making a note, but I linger so that I can observe this parasite, a wee bit longer. He sits there content and self-satisfied with his lastest reply. I begin to think, let’s push the envelope further, at the same time realising I’m so full of clichés.
‘So Peru sir, may I give some honest feedback about this painting? I want to share some of my impressions.’
He gracefully obliges. ‘Sure, please go ahead.’
Oh, he’s gullible too, besides being a con. Somehow, the two things don’t seem to go well, together. So he’s probably not that seasoned yet: a con in the making who I can snuff out before he becomes an embarrassment to the artist community. My bit for art.
‘I feel that you had a larger idea in mind when you set out to draw, er sketch, sorry, paint this canvas. Is that right?’
He is quiet for a long time. He peers at me, as if to say, I see what you are doing.
Then he says ‘yes, in fact I had painted a beach, the sea, the sky and a few surfers. But then it crowded my mind, so I painted the whole canvas over with white just leaving the hut.’
I’m bewildered. So I bark out, ‘but all your paintings are pretty much the same. Are they always painted over with white paint?’
‘ha ha ha ha, yes, yes. It seems to have become my style. My own battle with making choices. Choosing what to leave and what to submerge with white; it takes form in the canvas and then goes back where it came from.’
I don’t know how the interview ended. People say they found me convulsing with laughter and scribbling frantically. I had probably blacked out even as I was taking notes. Apparently, Peru sir had been kind enough to stay till the ambulance arrived. He then had to leave because he was giving a talk at the local art college.
I looked up the paper to see if they had covered his talk. Sure enough, they had. The title of his talk was the last thing I recall before passing out again – ‘Art – a window into our soul.’