Thursday, June 25, 2009

I stood in front of the "Burial Of Atala" for almost an hour. Completely consumed in the scene before me. The lifeless woman wrapped in shrouds of the filmiest tulle, her dead body being held by the priest, the young Greek man holding onto her feet with a desperation that brought tears to my eyes. With his downcast head and crouched body contorted around her lower half, it was like he was willing her alive, even as she was being lowered into the earth. The colors and shades of the dark painting echoed inside me and touched something so far back in my emotions I was overcome and had to sit down on the bench in the middle of the aisle. I had lost myself in this piece. So lost it seems, I didn't even see him walking back and forth in front of it at first. What he was doing was odd, and I should have noticed.

It was like he was pacing. Steadily taking about ten steps, turning, glancing feverishly at the painting, then pivoting and walking back to his original spot. When I finally did noticed him and it registered in my head what he was doing, I curiously pried my eyes away from the painting, and a small smile snuck across my face. I watched him for a few minutes until between his nervous glances at the painting, he noticed me silently staring. He stopped, looked at me briefly, his eyes not even registering with mine, shook his head as if to say, "You just don't get it." and proceeded pacing.

Surprising myself, I didn't look away. It was like my eyes, in childish wonder, were glued to him. Something about this strange man furiously walking back and forth, back and forth, almost like he was challenging the artwork, had grabbed my attention more than the incredible painting, itself the size of a wall. Then abruptly, and rather awkwardly, he sat down next to me. From the bag slung across his shoulders, he pulled out a sketchbook and started to draw.

It was like he was ripping and stabbing the paper with his pencil. His hand curled around it in a fist and his long hair was getting tangled in the movement of the rough strokes he used to outline his drawing. His desperation was palpable. His fury and despair falling from fingers that moved so quickly now my eyes blurred to keep watch. He roughly threaded his hair through spindly and now blackened hands. His back was straightening and folding under the weight of his conquest, to birth something the painting was forcing him to create. His intensity was reaching to me across the bench, and I was unnerved by its push. I looked to the floor, realizing now that he reminded me of the young man, hunched over his love in the painting, desperate to bring something to life that just wouldn't wake up. He was alive to nothing except the art, lost in its blurred and darkened canvas. Atala had completely swallowed him, and in her beautiful mouth he was drowning.