'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Emeric Thornburke

There are some old bee hives behind the orchard. My grandfather took up beekeeping after meeting a beekeeper who told him everything he knew about bees. This conversation lasted several months, although there were several interruptions, such as when my grandfather had to help someone lift a Shetland pony. This interruption lasted several months. He didn't spend all of this time lifting a Shetland pony. There were several interruptions, such as when he had to teach the dog how to stop eating the wheelbarrow. He lost interest in bees after a few weeks. They weren't as interesting as dogs because you couldn't teach them tricks and they weren't as much fun as Shetland ponies because you couldn't lift them.

My cousin Jessica is an art teacher. One of her friends, Jonathon, became an art critic after the editor of a newspaper overheard him talking about a painting in a pub one evening. He was very articulate in his descriptions of just how bad the painting was. He said of the artist, "There's a thing he does with his hand and a paint brush, and on the surface it might look like he's creating art but I think he's trying to communicate with his alien brethren on the mother ship."

The editor was looking for a new art critic and he offered the job to Jonathon, despite the latter's admission that he knew nothing about art. The editor wasn't in the slightest bit concerned about this, and his faith in Jonathon was rewarded. Jonathon became a very successful art critic. His immersion in the art world changed him as a person. He started developing affectations. When Jessica would call to see him in the evenings he'd lean against the mantelpiece with a glass of brandy in his hand. He'd be wearing a grey suit and white shoes. The laces were always undone.

She was angry with him for criticising artists when he had no idea what he was talking about. When she put this point to him he said, "It's not about what you know. It could be about pigs or cushions or Christianity. It could be about almost anything, but it's not about what you know."

"If you knew anything you'd know what it's about and you'd know that it is about what you know."

"That's a very authoritarian approach to art."

"Your approach is to trash everything you see."

"I trash about ninety-five percent of what I see because ninety-five percent of what I see is rubbish. You've got to be able to get rid of the rubbish if you want to see the gems more clearly. I always give praise where it's due."

It was true that he did give praise to certain artists, but Jessica didn't think he could ever recognise where it was due. To prove her point she invented an artist called Emeric Thornburke. She created Emeric's paintings herself. She thought Jonathon would like them because they were the sort of thing he had praised in the past. She knew someone who ran a gallery, and she was able to get some of Emeric's paintings included in an exhibition.

Jonathon liked the paintings when he saw them, and he decided he loved them after hearing the artist's life story. Emeric used to be an alcoholic, and he tried to burn every work he created before he was twenty-two. This is how he ended up in prison. Some of the paintings he burnt were in other people's houses. They had been sold for a lot of money.

Jonathon wrote very enthusiastically about Emeric's work. He said it made the other paintings seem as if they had been created by people hiding under blankets. People wanted to see more of Emeric's work. It took Jessica three hours to create another ten paintings. Her friend who ran the gallery agreed to show the paintings in an exhibition along with the art of a man who called himself Crunchy.

When Jessica was at her cousin Gary's birthday party in a pub one evening she overheard Gary's friend, Leonard, talk about a woman he met. Her name was Caroline. "She smiled at me," Leonard said. "I wondered if there was something about my presence that made her smile at me, but normally my presence is enough to make attractive young women take their presence elsewhere. She's a flautist, she told me. She's been playing the flute since she was ten. It was something her parents made her do, and she always saw it as an educational activity that she had to endure, like learning Irish all through primary school and secondary school. She used to play a lot of traditional Irish music, but she was more into pop music then. Later in her teens she started listening to indie music. She said it was the soundtrack to her life. I can picture her, hanging out with the cool kids. She has the looks to be part of the cool set. She'd have pity for the genetically impoverished un-cool crowd, people like me. The only criticism she could possibly have for her own genes were that they were making her parents tell her to learn the flute. But that wasn't really the genes' fault. They had come together in her and had a meeting, and decided that the flute was for the people with space-telescope glasses and satellite dish ears. Those genes could never have that meeting in her parents. She's a better expression of the union of her parents than anything they could do, although in many ways she was something that was done by her parents. She probably wouldn't want to think about that for very long.

"But anyway, she was telling me about learning the flute and how she hated it until she was eighteen, when she finally felt ready to tell her parents that she had no interest in the flute, but then she realised that traditional Irish music was actually cool, and she's loved playing the flute ever since then. She used to think of traditional musicians as people who had something wrong with their legs. It turned out that a lot of musicians were very much like her. She plays in a trad band with people just like her, the cool set, the ones who listened to all the right indie music in their teens, and probably still listen to it. It opened up a whole new aspect to Irish culture that she was blind to. She only wishes she could speak Irish as well.

"She spent half an hour telling me about playing the flute, and then she asked me what I do. I thought that if I told her I was studying civil engineering she'd make her excuses and leave, so I told her I was an artist. I thought she'd be fascinated by this, and she was. She asked me all sorts of questions about it. I was able to satisfy her curiosity with vague answers and the claim that it was impossible to explain my art in words, and that if I could describe it in words I wouldn't feel the need to create works of art -- I'd just use the words instead. She wanted to meet me again, which is good, but I can't keep up this pretence of being an artist for very long, which is bad."

"I have the perfect solution," Jessica said to him. "I've invented an artist called Emeric Thornburke to fool a critic. Emeric has been given an exhibition with another artist. I was going to come up with some excuse why Emeric couldn't make it, but you could pretend to be him. When I reveal the truth you can tell this woman that you were in on this all along, and that you told her you were an artist because you were so immersed in the role."

"Could I bring Caroline to the exhibition?"

"Of course you can."

Leonard smiled. "This might just work," he said.

He started to wonder about the wisdom of the plan shortly after arriving at the gallery with Caroline. He struggled to keep up the pretence because he was nothing like Emeric, and he hated the paintings, especially the one of the cat who was addicted to cough syrup.

Jonathon was delighted to meet him. He asked a lot of questions about Emeric's paintings. Leonard tried to keep the answers as short as possible, but even a simple 'yes' or 'no' could be awkward, like when Jonathon asked him, "Does this painting relate to the time you ate a falcon?"

Jessica hadn't said a word about eating a falcon. Leonard looked at her and she nodded. "Yes," he said. Caroline struggled to look him in the eye after this.

Leonard wanted Jessica to reveal the truth about Emeric, but she said, "Someone just offered four-thousand euros for Sore Kitty."

"You can't seriously be considering taking their money."

"You can have half of it."

"I don't want any of it. It would be immoral to sell any of these paintings."

"Would it? Would it really? When it comes down to it is it really moral to sell any work of art? And isn't there an element of illusion around every work of art? Isn't the illusion I've created part of the art?"

Leonard's answer was 'no', but he knew it wouldn't have any effect on Jessica. He started telling people that he may well burn the paintings in their houses if they bought any of his works. He thought they'd lose interest, but they only started bidding more.

When he saw Jonathon talking to Caroline his heart sank. She was laughing at something he said. Leonard had never made her laugh like that. He got a glass of wine and he drank it in one go. When people saw that Emeric was drinking again they were even more desperate to buy his paintings.

After a few drinks Leonard saw that there was only one way out. He got a cigarette lighter and he tried to burn the painting of the cat. Someone put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher, and people gathered around the remains of the painting. Someone said, "I'll pay twenty-thousand for it."

Someone else said, "Twenty-one-thousand."

"It's all a lie," Leonard said. "I'm not really an artist. I'm studying civil engineering. Emeric Thornburke doesn't exist. He was created to fool an art critic, to fool all of ye. Ye're all fools."

There was complete silence in the gallery, until someone said, "Twenty-two-thousand."

Leonard couldn't believe they were still willing to pay for a partially burnt painting of an addict cat that had been created as part of a scam, but he realised it would no longer be immoral to take their money now that they knew the truth. And Jessica had promised him half of it.

He still had the cigarette lighter. He started setting the other paintings on fire. The woman who ran the gallery followed him around with the fire extinguisher.

Unfortunately he didn't know which paintings had been created by Emeric and which had been created by Crunchy, the other artist in the exhibition. He set two of Crunchy's paintings on fire. He realised his mistake when Crunchy punched him, and almost simultaneously he forgot where he was.

When he regained consciousness a few minutes later he saw Caroline above him. She seemed to be very concerned about his well-being. The sight of her made him lose all interest in the money, which was just as well, because Crunchy demanded all of the money they made from the sale of Emeric's paintings to compensate for the destruction of his own works. Crunchy really had been in prison, and it was difficult to say no to him.

Jessica was disappointed to lose the money, but at least she had been successful in making a fool of Jonathon. He barely mentioned Emeric in his review of the exhibition, but he was full of praise for Crunchy, mainly because Crunchy had threatened him with a crowbar.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the soccer on TV. He still hasn't predicted who's going to win the tournament. Even the wife's aunt is taking an interest in it, mainly because it's a chance for her to practise her hobby of coming up with her own saint's days. Only she recognises Saint Sunderillpot, the patron saint of aunts. While watching the soccer she came up with Saint Rapcrowboy, the patron saint of referees. He's also the patron saint of the weather.