by Rebecca Aikman – Alberta Buzz/Reel Can Staff Writer
James shuffled his feet. He was wearing the red leather MHE’s, the ones that had caught his eye in the Netherlands. He was delighted to discover them on the first shelf of a local shoe shop upon his return home. The shoes really are great. They emit comfortable confidence and James likes to wear them often, especially on days when a little extra confidence is needed. Today is a good day for red leather MHE’s. He dives in with the invite. “Hey Jessica, would you like to go on a date Thursday?”
James and Jessica met at the Kaffa, a funky, young café in Calgary. What began as pleasant exchanges, graduated to flirting, then to complimentary drinks, until finally the day to ask for a genuine date had come.
Jessica smiles and leans forward, close enough to bring out the glow of James’s sunned cheeks. Sure. That was simple enough, now the next step, where will they go? Jessica has the solution. A friend of hers is part of a show kicking off a gallery opening downtown on Friday night. Perfect.
Now the thing to know about James is that he is the rugged rock climbing, wilderness type. He can dress up, quite well in fact. But he doesn’t, not unless violins or family photos strongly compel him. Since neither were expected at the gallery that night, James chose to dress as he always dresses, down. Jessica is much the same.
Calgary, a city with a burgeoning art scene flamed by oil money. From time to time the city shakes the prairie dust from a dress shirt, hangs up its 10 liter white cowboy hat and buys a new little black dress. Tonight at the gallery opening was one of those nights.
Arriving on time, feeling a little out of place and looking conspicuous, they headed straight for the bar, trying to blend in with some hard liquor. This proved to be disastrous for Jessica. To them, the show was a mediocre concept design full of dull instillation pieces. James felt awkward and bored. That is until, having made their way to the upstairs gallery, they came across a video instillation of the featured artist: Motorcycling scenes from Hong Kong.
James, with the now slightly tipsy Jessica in tow, found a refuge in the back left corner of a minimally decorated rectangular room. On the shorter west wall played the video montage consisting of urban motorcycle clips from the artist’s recent visit to Hong Kong, a video exploration of the artist roots. On the east wall, directly behind them held an oversized black square. James thought to himself that it must have been made of foam core painted with low quality black acrylic; If only that were the case.
Elegant, formally clad figures gathered in clusters, less than five, heels and glasses clinking on the newly finished hard wood floors. As Jessica shifted for a better view, she swayed ever so slightly to the left. It was at this exact moment that the corner of her jean clad elbow nudged the black piece. It wasn’t a hard nudge, barely a brush really. That was all it took. The painting came crashing to the floor with tremendous weight. A large sharp black corner hit first. It cracked, breaking free of the whole. “It’s ruined!” The artist was equally astounded and dismayed.
It was only in the frantic moments following that James noticed the small gallery sign posted on the now conspicuously blank wall. It read “untitled” Glass and Acrylic, $2500. Well at least he was right about one of the mediums.
They made their escape as the artist and gallery owner squabbled over the details.
Much to his chagrin, the story told itself with and without James’ knowledge time after time.
Al, a relative of James and genuine, understated artist, heard the tale from the author a few weeks later during one of his famous ‘family’ meals. He listened calmly, his gentle face characteristically tranquil before relaying this gratifying bit of knowledge.
“Michelangelo was once asked by an admiring student what criteria constituted a masterpiece.” He responded that “A true piece of art is one that can be rolled down hill without sustaining significant damage.”
We sat in silence for a few moments, both picturing the David tumbling down the hot cobblestone side streets of Rome.
James didn’t see Jessica again until late in the summer. Amusingly, he had spent the better part of the day painting in ripped jeans and an old torn t-shirt. His hair was stringy, long and due for a shave and wash. In preparation for a house warming party that evening, he was just on his way back from the liquor store, humming happily to himself with a crumpled brown paper bag full of whiskey in hand. The conversation was short.