“What would you like?”
“Uh, whatever you want. You got these windows so a vampire, or mummy, or anything really. Have you never done this before?”
“I have. Some people ask for specific things.”
“Ok, holler if you need anything.”
Jorg set about taping the windows beginning with the words. He lied. Nobody’s asked for anything ever. Besides liking bunnies for Easter and a pot o’ gold for St. Patrick’, it was Jorg’s job to read the mind of the calendar. He pinned for new subject matter. His talent as a draftsman, however, paralleled his imaginativelessness as an inceptor. He was a commission artist and needed a subject assigned to begin.
Jorg’s mind went for a stroll and it returned, lo, its signature read “Hollow Halloween”. Eh, “Happy” seemed antithetical for all the wrong reasons. Hmm, since Jorg had already botched, why not go all the way?
“What is that?!”
“It’s Saturn Devouring his Child.”
“Ya. You know Zeus? That’s his dad.”
“I don’t care whose dad it is! What’s it doing on the window?”
“This is a painting by Goya, the most Halloween artist there is. People in the know will eat this shit up. Everyone else will merely find it scary.”
“It’s too scary.”
The store manager shook his head but sighed in acquiescence.
“Ok, ok, everybody gather in. Several of you have had inquiries about the window art so I’m going to give you a quick rundown. Saturn Devouring his Child is by the Spanish painter Francesco Goya born 1746-1828. Goya painted Saturn during his Black Paintings period; you can tell customers it’s appropriate we’d have Saturn on our window since Goya hung the picture in his dining room and ate in front it. He was the court painter for a brief period, but fate turned against him, striking him deaf from a fever…”
“Deaf from God probably. If I saw a dude paint that, I’d curse him too.”
“Do we really have to know this?”
“Yes! If a customer has a question I want it answered.”
“They can just look it up.”
“I know they can look it up. What I want is service. Ok, I’d like to talk briefly about the Napoleonic Wars…”
Jorg was right. He received a call from the management saying that they’d received many compliments on the Goya, and would he be interested in being the store’s resident window artist?
Thanksgiving. He knew he should do a damn Rockwell turkey, but resisted so. Pilgrim art, too, would be difficult without a metaphorical germ sneaking in. He decided on impulse to do Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Peasant Wedding. He thought that sales in pie crusts and puddings would ensue, but he was wrong.
BEABON KNOLL PRESS
Letter to Green Apple Management,
Dear Green Apple Management,
We on the hill are thrilled upon seeing the prolific Saturn Devouring His Child on your window for October, it was widely admired by all. But I regret to inform you that the enthusiasm for Saturn is twice-fold negative for your current Peasant Wedding, and the reasons for indignation are thus:
It seems very suspicious that the artist has chosen to turn their back on the subject of November, that of Thanksgiving. Does the painter wish to circumvent the holiday with this 16th century Flemish wedding? If an artist sends anti-Thanksgiving messages on the walls of a store that sells Thanksgiving commodities, who’s in turn the hypocrite? Us, the store, the painter, or the painting?
Who are these peasants? It is the opinion of many that it is we. This malign thought hits different classes of the neighborhood differently, but all Beabonites are unanimous in finding it distastefully puzzling. Rather than the gratitude and reflection of Thanksgiving we are given this un-American (Thanksgiving it seems is second in patriotism after the 4th) proto-Marxist icon of Flemish art? Social criticism like such is better transformed into action i.e. donation bins and can drives. But Bruegel? Green Apple employees have commented that patrons arriving in Bentley’s have been seen driving off.
The fiercest complaints we at the press have received were naturally from the Catholic community whose church isn’t half a block away from the painting. They take any advertisement of protestant iconography as a subliminal attack on their beliefs. “One cannot buy bread,” I quote one letter, “without thinking, ‘these people not only decapitated statues but kept them around’.”
It’s not difficult to imagine the artist’s obduracy towards turkeys and pilgrims in a neighborhood that galvanizes vegetarian alternatives as well as respect for the image usage of Native Americans. Why the artist did not settle for a still life, is what’s so nettlesome. An autumnal Constable would have sufficed easily.
We, therefore, ask you to take down your display and give us something we can be thankful for.
Jorg scrapped away the mural late at night and assumed he was all but through. A few days before December he received a call from Green Apple Management.
“Are you still going to paint December?”
“Even after that scathing editorial?”
“Hell, it only got us more business.” Jorg heed and hawed. “Don’t you see you’re turning a whole community onto something they’d otherwise not have much interest in? You can’t stop now.”
“What should I do?”
“Whatever you want?”
To sidestep the scared and focus on what’s secular is to imbue the stand-in referent with untapped spiritual energy. Representations of the secular are imbued with the sacred made all the more palpable by its censored exterior. Are not Christmas lights in the distance orbs of Chanukah candles glowing? Do we not see in Santa the natural aging of Jesus the Christ?
In a bold move Jorg settled on Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepard’s but decide to replace the characters with their irreligious counterparts. He turned the shepherds into Mr. Frost and two elves, Santa as Joseph, and Mrs. Clause holding a Cabbage Patch doll like the motherly Mary; an umber Rudolph in the background, a dab of carmine for the unlit beacon.
Jorg didn’t want to hear the reaction this time. He got a new phone and unsubscribed from the Beabon Hill mailing list. Secretly he was banking on the demographic of dudes. It was only by inadvertently eavesdropping on strangers sitting in front of him on the bus that he heard his only review:
“It was like, totally crazy. So, I was one my way to Gina’s house, and I was walking by the Green Apple and like, there was this crowd outside the store, and apparently the guy who painted that monster for Halloween, you know, he’d been using famous paintings, and so for Christmas he did some religious piece and used Santa and his friends. And there were their two guys and one was saying, ‘Don’t you see, it’s the Virgin Mary as Mrs. Clause, her husband Santa as Joseph, with Christ as the ultimate gift.’ And then the other guy’s like, ‘Man, that ain’t a baby let alone our savior, it’s a doll, everybody knows Santa’s sterile. So what do they do? Adopt the worlds’ children and spend a year making each one a present.’ it wasn’t till St. Nickolas was penned that the Son finally returned via a poem.’ ‘What about naughty kids?’ ‘They get fuel for winter ‘cause where they’re living is poorly heated.’ And then this other guy’s like, ‘Shit like this shouldn’t even be in the public sphere! First he paints us as peasants then he…’ But then I was too far away so I couldn’t hear. He was pretty drunk though. But when I got to Gina’s house she had the radio on and they said that someone had smashed the window…” They got off.
The Newspaper’s account concurred with Gina’s friends’ story! His much prided Caravaggio was raptured to smithereens by rowdy grocers. The cause of the riot was unstated, but many think it was the inflammatory window art.
Jorg was relieved and surprised when commissions started rolling in from all over town. A guitar shop asked for a Watteau, a hair salon commissioned, not three, but four Pre-Raphaelites (Jorge found these pictures of long haired women in a barber shop ironic. “It’s called layering. Just paint the window.”) a bridal shop needed an obligatory Chagall, even Tar-get asked for a Jasper Johns. But what shocked him most was to learn that his Green Apple contract still stood.
Jorg felt like hot shit when his pastiche mechanism suddenly faltered. He yelled at a bowl of cereal, “January’s just fireworks!”
And true to Goggle Image’s testimony, January begins and ends after the 1st. Jorg had no heart for fireworks. He’d done them before; they look like connect-the-dot streamers. His mind’s eye ogled Bronzino’s, Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, but its creepy mannerism would make shoppers self-conscious about their purchasing habits. He kept time as his theme and settled on Holbein’s The Ambassadors. To lend it community he’d use two of the grocers for the models. For the mise-en-scène display he’d showcase some of the sales of the month, for the anamorphic skull, a green apple.
Jorg was rather jazzed about the piece when he got a call from management requesting a cartoon. Jorg found the demand a bit audacious. He was then summoned to a meeting where he quickly perceived his fall from favor. The chairman of the panel said, “We have the cartoon you submitted and we all think it would be a serious misstep and probably lead to another riot. Jorg, we’d like to give you a month or two off and let you gather yourself. We thank you for pointing out to us the potential of window design but now we need to better manage the application of such a volatile force.”
A few days later Jorg-in disguise went to buy some eggs and saw his replacement putting up the next installation: Magritte’s Son of Man with a friggin’ bite out of it. He heard the window artist telling a shopper, “The place is called Green Apple and the guy hadn’t done the most famous Granny Smith of all time? Sheesh, I’d riot too.”
Jorg fell out of fashion once word spread that the grocers had turned him out. He scrapped by making moldy Warhol’s for banana bread packaging and other base gigs.
His door made that knocking sound and two Italians juggernauts in black suits said,
“I am he.”
“We heard you used a picture of Caravaggio for your own gain, eh?” The other punched Jorg in the stomach. “Nobody uses Michelangelo pictures without our consent. Nobody!”
“We’re showing you our benevolence because the Bruegel boys were looking for you too, and we told them we were going take care of you.”
Through the shutter of slugging arms, Jorg looked at the sunlight in the trees.
Jorg never covered a masterpiece again, but his legacy got a notable nod when a renowned art critic said he’s stopped by Beabon Hill and was astounded at the visual literacy he encountered. He claimed to have overheard a group of skateboarders discussing The Labyrinth with the conversation taking a turn toward Albrecht Durer, Bosch, and how the success of the movie lay in its heavy-handed referencing of the rich history of devils in Germanic and Dutch art. “Once they heard I was an art critic,” he said in an interview, “the whole neighborhood turned out to ask me questions. I was amazed.”
Gabriel Congdon lives in Seattle where he is one of the creators of the web-series &@. His work is work is forthcoming from No Extra Words Podcast and his play The Biz can be found on A Pocketful of Plays.