Inside Goya

He invites disappearance by plunging his arms into water. The task before him is carried along with little rivulets of olive oil and rosemary still hugging the white ceramic dinnerware — a task barely adjacent to its description.

Water may ease solid objects into unpredictability, minus chaos. Knowing slides away from its containers. His thoughts come to him suddenly, after many nights of standing there as if lost to the world. They appear as faces riding in on waves.

For this moment, he claims his knowledge and the body containing it.

No peerage, no attribution. He siezes the almost empty bottle of dish-washing liquid, flushing-out the insides of the pink plastic container with hot water, faucet turned-up to unleash an intense pressure carrying him away.

The painter unrolls a kind of opaque paper, firm to the brush, and tears off lengths of glasseine whose material carries in its cells a slight crackling sound when moved or folded and over which the intended brushwork may slide, losing its original shape.

The paper is empty and fills the space around the painter as if she were standing in its center, or closer to one edge, looking into its entire measurement. She sketches a chair, then squeezes out an inch of solid green acrylic and applies it with swift brush strokes, watching the paint skid across the paper's unadhesive surface and loosen its hold on pigment. She mumbles to herself and wishes to drag deeply on a cigarette, except that this is no longer in her rescue repertoire. The chair's shape slides.

She takes another sheet of paper and again sketches a chair, in a slightly different position. A person having just got up to leave the room has left behind his mixed skin tones, the impression of his body is still rising from its indentation in the blue cushions. She remembers that Poussin ground all his own colors and made his blue Roman skies from pure lapis. Another squeeze of the tube.

She moves away from an inquiry of the known to a more neutral circling of the chair in space. She places the second glasseine rectangle partially over the first so that their adjacent corners overlap and invite scrutiny. A shadow appears.

The shadow suggests a field into which a boy enters and, forgetting this is not his picture, he adds a third overlay — a radiator, with its steam fittings leading down into a moist embankment of new grass. Lifting a stick of charcoal, he draws a house with its door open. Now there are other boys running out the door of the house — as if it had always been there — into a thickness of tall, dead weeds where they dash in zig-zags, whooping and then crouching, holding pieces of wood or folded cardboard wound with rubberbands, as if waiting for something momentous.

The boy enters his house and stands on a chair, looking out a window set high above the floor made messy by a suddenly disrupted birthday party. His friends are far away. He can see the tops of their heads poking out from the weeds, here and there, as if transmitting a signal to someone in a tower. "This chair could be the tower and I could be the receiver," he thinks.

He's waiting for a message, such as where he should go or who has chosen him for their side. They just suddenly went running, one boy among them having decided and beckoned and all of them following him as if knowing where they were going.

A fourth piece of glasseine crinkles with deliberate lines of cross-hatching. The pencil has released an energy just beyond the artist's intention to call it forth. It is hidden in the boys and has "a life of its own" growing in them, locked into the sweep of their forearms. The birthday party has finally exploded through its containing walls and beyond the tissue papers torn from trivial fake airplane models, spy adventure books, super hero comics and metal tanks printed with camouflage patterns of mud-brown.

There are no girls there except the mother and she is saying "You should go outside and play with the boys," as if he understands her meaning. The boys are smudged away from the room that once was loud with their bodies. The inside has soaked up the outside and is absorbing the chairs and table, forlorn and sticky with half-eaten bits of thickly-frosted white cake on paper plates wet with leftover trails of ice-cream slabs still retaining their pink-and-brown stripes.

He feels now the space of the room folding in around him, how its volume subtracts a watery lightness and soaks him up. No one has explained what the game is, though he knows from watching his older brother's friends that it has to do with waiting and trapping. Sitting on the chair now, he wants to ask a question but cannot find its words. He draws himself with the piece of charcoal onto a fifth piece of glasseine and places it so that the paper's lower edge slips slightly behind the other images.

On the morning of his birthday, the man who is often washing dishes dreams that he's looking out the window at a box-like, nondescript two-story residential structure with assorted windows. The building reassembles the lathe and plaster construction of a house he recognizes from once living in another city years earlier and he sees that a young girl is crawling through an upper-story window of this house and out onto the clothesline, as if it were a tightrope and could hold her. Several shadowy faces seem to have gathered in the dark square, just behind the window's frame. No sound forms into words, but watching the scene it is evident that some worry is causing these bodies to move as if in a stage backdrop painted with Goya-like shiftings from grey to black.

The girl is crawling along the clothes line with a certain confidence but, with no warning at all, her balance is suddenly flung out of her and the weight of her body pulls down as she struggles to hang on to the line.  An old woman's face appears at the window ... her body carries the passivity of a classical group figure, without definite attributes. The old woman, although she is receding in time, makes some attempt to pull the line in towards her, so as to bring the girl's body closer to the window where she can then reach out and try to pull those arms to safety.

In the mind of the witness it is his birthday and he's gripped by his expectation and how it has been shaped by several possible movie endings recently seen and the hope, tension and disbelief of them all mingling in him — as in layers of thin paper whose images leak through into each other. How can this girl have taken such a chance, who is now hanging only by her hands which are cramping and slipping as the clothesline's arc sinks deeper with her weight. The old woman is inside Goya and pulling as best she can. The girl's body swings just beyond the sill of the window where the line is attached and the woman tries to pull her up by her wrists. But it isn't going to work. Watching from the other side, its impossibility begins to swiftly rise in the viewer as the girl's hands unclench and she falls.

—for Eric Fischl and for Coille Hooven


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* "Inside Goya" originally appeared in Facture/3, 2002.