David Finn is a renowned artist in Coldford. From the first sketches he made to the images of Julia Harvester he created that will be forever etched in history, his work is synonymous with talent tearing through circumstances. He is a rare individual to meet in that he is genuine. Despite his struggles he is unspoiled by the ruthlessness that could have consumed him. He doesn’t see the might of the great towers of City Main. He doesn’t see law or religion. He sees the blend of colours that make up such a landscape and through the city’s eyes he paints them. I am reporter, Sam Crusow, and this is the ‘drowning boy’.
“Why don’t you swim?”
“Why can’t you swim?”
“Where you never taught to swim?”
“If you moved your body you could, you know.”
David lost himself in swirls of dark blue. He could feel the pressure pressing down on him.
“Just keep trying. There’s a surface to reach somewhere.”
The blue became darker as more black was added. The black was diluting the soft blue more and more as the swirls grew larger and larger.
“Why don’t you swim!?”
There was breathlessness as all colour fell to nothing. The black was so deep in the centre it reflected a little of the light above. You could reach up but what would you find? You had fallen into blackness now. It was too late. Even in a consuming mouth of water all roads lead to the same place in the end.
David finally took a breath. He looked up to observe his piece. The central figure was genderless and without feature. It could be anyone caught in the whirls of darkness. Even without features it was clear the figure was in distress.
“Can’t you swim?”
“Why can’t you swim?”
David could still hear the voices of his vision ask him. The sculpted heads on the shelves beside him had varying reactions to his latest work. There was one he called the screamer. They were always shocked at what was produced. What was art though if not shocking? There was the comedian who laughed through the worst of it. A great chuckle was their response no matter how black the paint got. Then there was the crier. They wept as the images revealed themselves on canvas. So beautiful, so tragic, so pleasant, it didn’t matter, it all brought a tear to their eye. Then there was the sculpture named Arthur who at full size stood watching over his shoulder with a contemplating hand on his chin and searching expression that seemed to change to suit the mood of the room.
“Well done, David,” the statue seemed to say.
It didn’t matter if he could swim or not, art was about throwing yourself in the deep end.
David had a strong vision but sometimes it become cloudy. His talent became apparent to a high school art teacher named Mr Cassell. Cassell could see the raw flare in David and he sought to encourage it as much as he could. He was worried that David would become a product of his environment and would be swallowed up in a poverty trap and the images he could produce would be forever unseen. He was already falling to drugs and it was only a matter of time before his loosening grip as a teacher would break completely and David Finn would fall into the pits of society, another lost soul.
“It would be a tragedy,” Mr Cassel had insisted at the time. “It would break my heart when I know what David Finn is capable of.”
For David though, travelling through a world if images the colour blends became blurry. Sometimes it was such a striking use of form it drew from its darkest depths. Needless to say, try as his art teacher might, David fell into those murky waters and started to drown.
“Tragedy,” Mr Cassel insisted. “An absolute tragedy.”
Those murky waters of his life were cold and the current was strong but David had those around him who were willing to help pull him free. Having been raised in an almost feral environment by an uncaring mother David had spent his life seeking the positivity of life outside of his home. Luckily he found it when he stumbled upon the Ferrald family. Alex Ferrald was his closest friend. Alex was opposite to David in that he was raised in a caring home. Dr Graham Ferrald and his wife Stephanie welcomed David with open arms. He found the positivity he needed there and safety where his artistic vision could be nurtured.
“I cannot wait to see it,” Stephanie announced of his latest painting that was to be unveiled at the Dalway Lane gallery in Main that very evening.
David looked up from the stain he was trying to wipe off his shirt.
“You’ll need a good jacket,” Stephanie decided.
“This is my good jacket,” he stated.
“Hmmmm,” Stephanie was disapproving. “I’ll fetch you something of Graham’s. I know you artists like that no care aesthetic but it’s a big night. She took the shirt from him and looked over the stain. “What is that anyway?” She asked.
“Pizza sauce,” David assumed.
Stephanie shook her head with a smile of exasperation. “I’ll see what I can do with it.”
What she could do with it was throw it out. It was an old shirt but since it was what David had held his favourite it had some sense of sentimentality.
When Alex arrived on scene he was dressed in his best jacket. His hair was neatly combed.
“I forget just how handsome my boy can be when I get so used to seeing him look such a scruff,” Stephanie teased.
Alex rolled his eyes. A Coby games T-shirt and jeans was usually more his style. Stephanie went off in search for good jacket for David.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing this one,” said Alex.
Most times when there was a particular image David was wishing to create, Alex would be told to wait for a grand reveal when it was done. He didn’t like showing a working progress. More often than not though David would be so excited by his piece he would describe it and the young veterinarian would play a game with himself as to how close the image in his head matched the final product. David’s descriptions were apt but the only way to capture the true beauty was to see it with your own eyes.
“Thanks, man,” David said. “I’m nervous.”
Alex patted his arm. He would be nervous. He always was with any kind of unveiling but he had been clean now for a while. His body was rejecting those murky waters from itself and that caused a lot of psychical pain.
That was where the Ferrald family would find a suitable jacket for him. It would be thrown to him like a life jacket in a storm.
Now dressed in one of Dr Ferrald’s blazers but still carrying the grungy artist underneath, David had Stephanie’s arm around him as she pulled both he and Alex closer.
“Don’t the boys look so good?” Stephanie asked Dr Ferrald.
Dr Ferrald, eminent cardiologist, gave a smile of approval as he finished affixing his bow tie.
From the warm family home in the upper Mid West the murky waters flowed to City Main and the Dalway Lane gallery, passing underneath the tunnel of David’s career.
David Finn was a raw talent. There were many who had hoped to hone his skill but the artist felt it was best he be free from the restrictions of learned technique. He was a true artist in the sense that the only value he saw in his work was from people who appreciated the vision. There was no coin required. His friend, Harper Lane, did though. She was an artist of note herself but unlike David she had swam the waters of society a little more carefully, relying less on her vision and more on astuteness. Art fed the soul and that was okay by Harper but only coin fed the mouth so she was willing to accept the need for business in the art world. Showing David’s pieces was a boon to both of them. It was a fine balance of colours with each cup filled equally.
With warm embraces Harper met David and the Ferralds in the rotunda of her gallery. Her long, dreadlocked hair had been wrapped in a yellow and black Subalan head scarf.
“Everyone’s so excited,” she said to David in an aside. “It’s all that everyone’s talking about. I’ve heard there’s some Penn reps in tonight so … please no outbursts.”
David had been clean and sober for a while now but Harper was such the big sister type she would always show him which way the river was flowing so he wouldn’t waste time swimming against it.
David took a deep breath.
“I’ve got it. I’ve got it,” he said, more to himself than to Harper.
Harper smiled with a natural radiance. “I know you do,” she said and she kissed his cheek.
“I have some fan mail for you,” she said passing him two hand written notes.
The first read as follows:
I am sorry I can’t be with you tonight. I wish you every success. I’m so proud of you. Vincent.
The second was more scribbled.
I wish I was there, honey, but I’ll get up real soon. Take lots of photos. I love you. Tee
David smiled. He folded the notes and pushed them into his pocket. There were some other people like his rehab mates, Tawny McInney and Vincent Baines, who had their own murky waters submerging them but they were there for each other. Even just having their encouraging words made David feel a little better.
Harper led him inside.
“We’ll get you some orange juice,” she offered, noting he was looking a little sickly.
“Ladies and gentlemen. We’ve come to know David Finn’s work to be hard hitting, provocative and bold. His latest piece promises to be no different. Speaking to David earlier he said to me this particular piece could have been one of his longest to complete. It reflects life as a journey down a river from the calm pools to the rock filled rapids so it would never be truly finished for we’re always turning and changing and life flows on. That being said David felt it was time to climb out of those waters and find clearer, fresher ones, but the journey so far will be forever imprinted. I am most pleased to present, David Finn’s – Drowning Boy.”
The curtain fell. The observers gasped. Upon a large canvas a wash of blues and blacks fell upon them. The central figure reached out in such a way it was for the observer to decide whether it was pulling you in or pleading for you to pull it out. The image plummeted towards ever darker depths.
“Astounding!” Was one exclamation.
David, bashfully received his applause.
Alex and David had taken a return trip to gallery the day after the unveiling. They were looking at the drowning boy again. David was busy thinking of the true journey that the image represented. It fitted his own experiences well but there were so many people out there who he knew would understand. He maybe couldn’t pull all of them free. He couldn’t stop them drowning but he could express himself in such a way that showed without a single word uttered that he understood.
“Don’t get too keen on that hanging there. It’s off in the morning, like,” these were the words of Reggie Penn. He was bounding towards them quite excitedly.
Reggie had always been a fan of David’s work from when Harper Lane first displayed. The painting had been one called ‘This Child Bugs Me’. Reggie’s morbid curiosity of the great fat woman with a fly head throwing a baby had captivated him.
“I need to have that,” Reggie had told his influential family.
The image was one of horror but to look deeper there was a tale of inhumane selfishness that surrounds us at all times. It’s a greed that will never be filled. The child represented discarded potential so easily cast aside as the flies of society pick at the shit of what’s left behind.
“I know all that,” Reggie insisted, when Harper’s partner, Gabrielle, explained this to him. “I get the depth. It’s a real cool story but it draws your eye too.”
Drowning boy had caught his attention again but this time it was to be put to auction. He had come personally to see it in the gallery.
The Penn family had something of a notorious reputation. The patriarch Reginald Penn was hailed as the King of Main. Reggie and his two brothers were met with a reverence and respect and the Penn family responded in kind. They had a certain nobility about them that earned them their would be titles. In order to keep them their reputation was also a violent one. With this in mind, as Reggie greeted David with familiarity, Alex was rendered tense.
“How’s it going, Alex?” Reggie greeted the vet who had been responsible for treating some of the rats the quirky triplet kept.
Mild mannered, upper Mid West, Alex found Reggie intimidating enough but he was considered the most personable of the Penn Triplets. Alex was something of a deer in the headlights when he turned and noticed Reggie had been accompanied on this day by the middle triplet brother, the boxer better known as Punchline Penn.
“You’ve not been logged in in ages,” Reggie was saying of an online game he had been playing which he had invited Alex to.
Reggie considered he and Alex bonded over their mutual love of video games. Alex did love video games but he considered them bonded over his fear of the triplet and now his more muscular and aggressive counterpart, Simon, was in tow.
“I’ve been busy,” Alex said, “but thanks for the invite. I really look forward to it.”
The situation would probably have been much easier on Alex if it hadn’t been for David fanning the flames for his own amusement by saying things like, “I heard one guy beat Reggie in a game once and he ended up disappearing.”
“He did not,” Alex shook it off but there was always a ‘what if’. With the Penn triplets that was a big ‘what if’.
Simon was observing the painting. He leaned his head back to get a good look at it.
“It reminds me of the ‘Ripples’ by Gourdy that hangs in Luen,” he said. His upper lip tightened. His gaze narrowed. Then he nodded. “This is much better, like. It’s more real. ‘Ripples’ could be any old art you find but this one stands out.”
David beamed. “Thanks man, I appreciate it.”
“I knew you’d like it,” Reggie told his brother.
“I do,” Simon said. “It’s a good one. I’ll talk over the details with Gabby.”
The Penns went about his business, Reggie lingering a little behind his brother observing the paintings again as though it was the first time in seeing them.
Alex breathed a sigh of relief.
“You’re such a wimp,” teased the artist.
“I can’t help it. I think it would be easier if they were mad at me. Then I would know what to expect. For some reason it’s much worse when he’s trying to be my friend.”
“Reggie’s a good guy,” David assured. “Marcus is really to the point but he’s sound too. Besides, if they were mad at you do you really think you would know what to expect?”
Alex shuddered. “Better a friend …”
“I heard they once gave some guy the death by a thousand cuts treatment.”
Alex frowned. “Shut up. They did not.”
“I’m telling you man, it was brutal. The guy only asked for directions.”
Alex’s frown deepened. “They did not. Shut up!”
“I’m kidding,” David said. “It was because he tried to hit on their mother.”
Alex shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”
“You can take the chance if you like,” David offered.
Alex gave it some thought. There were worse things than having a Penn pal he supposed. Then he thought about it some more.
“Hang on,” he said. “If you’re so knowledgeable about that then you won’t mind discussing it with Simon.”
David shook his head. “Would I fuck, man. I’m liable to get my face smashed in. It’s different for me. I’m not one of the inner circle like you.”
Alex’s eyes widened. “That’s not how they see me.”
“Put it this way,” David explained. “They love my work. They’ve bought loads from Harper and Gabby but I still ain’t been invited to Reggie’s Lonesome Nights server.”
Alex gave another shudder.
When they returned to Alex’s home in Caroline Apartments, the vet made a point of accepting Reggie’s request. He had stayed offline since then but he was comforted in the knowledge that at least Reggie would know he was making effort in their seemingly blossoming friendship.
Alex and David lost themselves in other video games. Alex was forced to hit pause when his phone rang.
“Might be the clinic,” he said.
“Hello, Alex? It’s Reggie Penn.”
‘Oh, no, why?!’ He thought.
“I’ve been trying to get ahold of David but the number we have isn’t working. Harper said he’s probably with you.”
“He’s here,” Alex explained passing the phone.
The two engaged in a battle of whispers and expressions before David finally answered.
“Hey, man,” he said cheerily. “What’s been happening?”
“We had your auction,” Reggie informed him. “We got your buyer.”
“That’s cool, man. Who?”
“A City Main collector. He’d love to meet you. Could you maybe come in so he can say a few words before he takes the painting away?”
David agreed. “Sure. I’ll get up as soon as I can.”
“One of us will be here all day anyway so just let us know when you’re here. Oh, and tell Alex I got his acceptance. I’ll see him on the server soon.”
Ringing off from Reggie, Alex scowled at him.
“I’ve got no phone,” David admitted. “They couldn’t get me.”
When the details of the call had been divulged Alex said, “that’s good news about the auction. Maybe now you can get a new phone.”
“It’s never the first thing I think of,” David admitted.
The murky waters of life can carry us many different places. Beginning in the slums of the Shanties, David had struggled through the undergrowth to find himself in the great wide mouth of City Main. It was an unexpected journey and no knowing how the tides would turn but swim on he would. He had come too far to still be the drowning boy. The drowning boy was now to stand as a symbol of perseverance in the hands of a collector who’s eye it had caught.
The light and setting of the auction house made the ‘drowning boy’ painting seem more ominous. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and such a beauty as the grim desperation of the drowning figure was viewed differently depending on the mood. The darkness of the auction house store where it had been moved offered an abyss for the figure to fall into. On the other hand it could look as though the figure had managed to climb to the greatest heights. City Main was after all considered the greatest of heights in Coldford. There were many peaks but City Main was where it all came together. There ‘drowning boy’ could fall into concrete pools of aggressive business and ruthless politics. It was a different kind of murky water from the poverty of the Shanties but it was no less able to drown.
Looking at the painting again gave David some doubts. Should he maybe have waited for this piece? He had admitted that his journey was still ongoing. There were still struggles to be had and dangerous waters to swim.
“Good morning, David,” a familiar voice drew him from his thoughts.
“Mr Cassel! I haven’t seen you since …”
“Since high school, yes,” Mr Cassel said. “That’s longer than I care to admit.”
David had been so taken aback by seeing his old art teacher. He was flustered in a way that was akin to a child seeing their teacher outside the classroom. He looked different. He looked older, a little more casual in dress but he was smiling warmly.
“Did you come to see the painting?” He asked.
“I came to take it home. It now belongs to me,” the teacher told him with pride. “When you were my pupil I hoped upon hope that you would make a success of yourself. The success would of course fair you well but I hoped too because I just new people had to see your vision. It’s fearless, it’s encouraging, it’s humbling, it’s all those things and more. I promised myself that when you did I would have one of your paintings and here we are. Alex had mentioned this to Reggie Penn and he kindly gifted to me. I couldn’t not be more proud of what you became. I know it wasn’t easy but you got there didn’t you. This painting is even more significant to me because as your teacher I could only instruct you on how to swim. I always worried those waters would get far too choppy but you had it in you. You swam and you emerged. I can hang this painting with pride and know that you did it.”
David laughed with joy. He wrapped his arms around his old teacher and embraced him tightly. The emotion spilled from his eyes.
“I’m glad I did you proud, man,” he said. “I’m glad.”
We all have that drowning figure within us. The rivers that swamp us are different but struggle is a universal experience. We all struggle from time to time and the ‘drowning boy’ painting stands a vivid representation of that. The purpose of art is to provoke. It provokes emotion and it provokes discussion. Seeing the image had me thinking how our world would be if we acknowledged that we all struggle in the water of our lives from time to time. Drowning comes from our own being no longer being able to struggle. The water enters the lungs despite all resistance and we are consumed. But what if we stopped trying to struggle and we helped each other out of the water instead. What kind of picture would that paint then?
“No Davey, No!” where the last words he heard him cry. It took some time for him to remember his childhood but now the artist’s ‘tortured boy’ piece is ready, thanks to his latest muse.
Trauma, obsession and addiction are just some of the reasons to seek refuge at Harbour House rehab clinic. The world outside can be a scary place after all.