1.3 Rothko & the mammal

I stand before Plucinski’s nude photographs. My attention is divided between the detachment of the girls in the pictures and the proximity of the receptionist’s perfume as she stands next to me, examining the photos for herself. Plucinski has withdrawn to the back corner of the room as if I could ignore him -I can feel his heart taut on the tenter¹ of the photographs in front of me, pounding with stress.

“I mean, whoa, you shot these wide open!” Sofia turns to Plucinski. She means the camera’s aperture, which blurs everything around obscure and deeply personal details of those women’s bodies.

“Yeah… I shot them with my 50mm 1.2 lens.”

“But so much of the picture is gone…” Sofia is being relentless, and having seen her own photos during her hiring as an intern, she is just being haughty on her high horse.

“That glow on your whites…” I ask Plucinski, “Did you insist on it during the editing?”

“Umm… yeah” Plucinski approaches and comes to stand next to me, his arms folded over his chest. “Actually, I intentionally ‘censored,’ ” -he’s using his hands to draw air-quotes, “everything else except that part that makes us feel the most intimate and in a way brings us out of our comfort zone. The glow is so as to welcome us there.”

Hmm. I wonder. Do I feel intimate? Do I feel uncomfortable? Do I feel welcomed? I look harder at the photograph right in front of me. Under a white sheet, a girl is laughing. There is movement in the picture. The lens is focused on the girl’s eyes. The whole thing is off. I press my lips.

“Mr. Plucinski,” I turn to the man next to me “I don’t know if Sofia informed you, but the gallery is booked four months in advance” I exaggerate a little bit.
Would it win me Pollock’s favor to hear me let him down that easy?
“But I think this will give you enough time to think a bit harder on where you stand as a photographer and what you wish to represent with your art.” I hear the words coming out of my mouth and they mean nothing -just vague generalities that hopefully make me sound like a nobody.

“You don’t like them.” Plucinski seems to have noticed.

“Mr. Pl — ”

“Call me Gregory.” He interrupts.

“Okay, Gregory… I am not in the position to criticize — ” I begin to say.

“Tell me what’s wrong with them.” He interrupts again.

Plucinski stands there wide eyed as I start to find his entire presence annoying, like an imperceptibly thin hair that persistently tickles my skin.

“Well, Mr. Plucinski, to be honest, I think you should keep up better. The world is not what it used to be. We don’t need any more nude images to sexually liberate us, or intimacy to scare us, or the beauties of the female body to exalt us. I don’t know if you’re getting this.” Plucinski stands there like a square wavering a nod. “I think we’ve stopped identifying as mystical creatures that came into this world to domineer it…” yeah, with our big heads and our big busts and our hairlessness. “It sinks in now that we’re just… mammals, that came out of the world, and our intricate complexities are nothing but… events or occurrences, meaningless and arbitrary, like dead ends. I’d really like to see how that makes the artist feel.”

The sound of my voice quickly fades out and silence spreads across the room. The mammal in front of me seems to be responding with a nervous laugh.

“Well…” he breathes, “I don’t know if everyone feels the same way…”

Ah. Naivete.

“Of course Mr. Plucinski -perhaps some other gallery will look at your photographs in another way.”

“Yes, I think perhaps this is may be a bad match after all” Plucinski is trying to salvage some sense of self-respect in his wide-aperture world.

The mammal extends his hand to me. “Thank you for your time and your input -you have certainly given me something to chew on.” Plucinski shakes my hand and then Sofia’s.

“Please let us know when you have something for us.” I try to soften the blow.

“Of course -I will.” Plucinski flashes a smile at us and turns around to leave.

“Gregory!” I call out. “You forgot your photographs!”

Plucinski yanks his hand in the air. “Keep them” he says and continues walking towards the back exit until the door bounces against the frame a couple of times and he’s gone.

I sigh and try to hide my face inside my palm.

“Damn…” Sofia comes to stand next to me. “You slayer.”

I look up at her. She’s looking at me with a smug smile on her face. Her eyes shoot though me and I feel them trying to get somewhere inside me -somewhere deep and personal.

“I’m joking,” she shies away. “That guy was clueless. I got better nudes on my Instagram.”

And there I spot it again -that look, trying to get to me.

“I bet” I wink at her shamelessly. She’s almost red in her cheeks and I’m starting to enjoy this.

“You know, I was waiting ‘till now to tell you, but…” she picks her phone out of her back-pocket and taps her finger on the screen a few times. “I don’t know if you heard -the art world is shook by Conner Ayz dying last night” -she is showing me the headline on the screen. I should really keep up. “An OD. I already sent flowers and condolences to the rest of the orchestra and…” she fidgets with her phone “I was wondering if you would like to go to the funeral together tomorrow. It’s at 12.”

Did she just ask me out on a funeral?

“Say yes, Carmen!”

I look over Sofia’s shoulders to see where all the shouting is coming from. Sofia herself, seems to be unaware of the whole fuss. Mark Rothko’s Red, 1964, is apparently hanging on my wall, and the man himself is filling the floor in front of it.
“Yes! Say yes!” Mark Rothko is causing a commotion.

I turn back to Sofia. “Umm… Can I get back to you on that?” I smile -hoping to get her out of there.

“Erm… sure. I’ll be here!” she flashes a grin at me.

“Sounds good!”

“Say yes Carmen!” Rothko is still shouting in front of the red paint as Sofia is leaving me to return to her post at the front desk. I meet Mark in front of the red canvas.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Oh Carmen! When did you become so cynical?!”

I fold my arms over my chest. “Me? Cynical? Didn’t you kill yourself, Mark?”

“Oh but yes but no -that is not the point! Look at this painting! You like it?”

“Of course -it’s my favorite one of your works.”

“How does it make you feel Carmen? Hm? What feeling is this on the canvas?”

I look hard into the paint.

“It’s lust. No. It’s love. But it has… death on the side…”

Mark Rothko’s nodding blends in with the red painting that dominates upon my eye.

“Yes… Carmen… that’s right. Now. Focus on the red! Focus on the red Carmen!”

¹A framework.