Sei Smith

For most paintings, the beginning is filled with excitement, growing and changing in a constant state of becoming. Colors appear and are covered as they are massaged by the corse hairs of the brush. The painting is moved around the room, on the wall, on the table, an easel, the floor…then one day the changes stop. The attention of their creator fades and the painting sits still in a corner. If they are lucky a wayward curator may pick them up and hang them back on the wall for a few moments. Days later they may be wrapped in cozy packing materials and begin a journey outside of the studio for the first time. They may hang in a beautiful new home with new friends or in the dark of some lonely storage space, but where ever they end up their life has been set. No more changes save for the wear and tear of age. Paintings, like most contrived creations, always end up stuck in time. 
Of course, paintings are still just inanimate objects. No matter how many emotions or ideas they may evokes, no matter how we anthropomorphize them, at the end of the day they are just a collection of materials intwined for eternity (or until they rot).  

But for this “painting’s journey” let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend this painting is a young traveler out to see the world for the first time. With no intentions or expectations, the painting travels from home to home. Visiting writer friends of the paintings “father.” It crashes for a week with one writer then heads out to the next apartment. Sometimes the writers take the painting with them as they travel through the city or out of it. Sometimes the painting hangs back and stays in the writers apartment, watching the shadows cycle as the writer comes and goes. After six weeks of travel the painting returns home.
This is a small collection of the paintings interactions with its hosts, as told by the hosts themselves. Taking form as essays, stories and poems, this is what comes out when you have a painting as a house guest. 
Three Lives
Joseph Goodale

As when on a rainy day, Yves Klein, according to John Yau, drove a new painting through the weather 

A few months ago, for example, I felt the urge to register the signs of atmospheric behavior by recording on canvas the instantaneous traces of spring showers, of south winds, and lightning. (Needless to say, the last-mentioned ended in a catastrophe.) For instance, a trip from Paris to Nice might have been a waste of time had I not spent it profitably recording the wind. I placed a canvas, freshly coated with paint, upon the roof of my white Citroen. As I zoomed down Route National 7 at the speed of 100 kilometers an hour, the heat, the cold, the light, the wind, and the rain all combined to age my canvas prematurely. At least thirty to forty years were condensed into a day.
(Yau, Further Adventures in Monochrome, 140)

So did I bring Sei Smith’s painting, Three Lives, with me on the train north from New York to Connecticut in March. The elegiac and very small painting was still wrapped up in my backpack and I had forgotten to take it out before leaving, so it stayed with me in the dining car of the train and in my aunt and uncle’s car when they picked me up from the station and in the hospital room where my grandmother was staying a few days before she died, where I saw her last. 

Three lives is a dark painting—its canvas, frame and backing board are all constructed out of wood and permanently attached to each other, so that the three elements are also one sculptural unit. It is clear that the frame is not separate from the painting at all, because it is also painted partly red on its black background. The painting is abstract but it is clear, I think, which way is up and that there are depicted three lives on a hill—either approaching or receding or stationary. Motion is not given. 

Similarly when my father was sick in 2002 Harriett brought over a painting that she had recently purchased on a trip and that she thought he might like, and he liked it a lot, my mom says. And we or she hung it in the bedroom. It may have hung on the wall opposite the bed by the dresser and the mirror, or to the right by the window and the fire-escape door, or by the arm-chair and the other window and the closet, or to the left by all the hospital equipment. And he died next to it, after which Harriett brought it away home with her, where I imagine she has it still, and must think about the fact that it had been at a death bed before it was in her house, and the funny remanence and provenance that that is, and that it may have registered the atmospheric behavior of the room, depending on how mystical or sentimental Harriett is—

Three lives has also now been at a death bed and must mean something for it. 
People care about previous owners and what happened near what, as when Gertrude Stein, as Alice B Toklas writes about a portrait by Cezanne, 

They put it in a cab and they went home with it. It was this picture that Alfy Maurer used to explain was finished and that you could tell that it was finished because it had a frame.
It was an important purchase because in looking and looking at this picture Gertrude Stein wrote Three Lives.
(Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)

Solace in the Void
Emiliano Bombieri-Morales

Skal eyed the newcomer absent mindedly, noting the shiver that wracked the young man’s body, his fearful eyes transfixed on the glowing tower, as if his only salvation lay in that warm guiding presence. The man had arrived at seven bells by his time. Skal knew that to most people that meant chirping birds, the rising sun, day, but in the vastness of Abyss it just meant breakfast. Something clicked in the distance and the man looked sharply in the direction of the sound staring at the blackness, clutching his back tightly to his chest. After a moment the man seemed to relax. Jostled from his luminescent hypnosis he looked down the stretch of the path where another beacon was just barely visible.

The young man hadn’t said a single word upon arrival. That wasn’t unusual Skal knew. Most pilgrims who crossed Abyss were often affected by pitch black, by the fear of falling from the path. Their eyes greedily drank in the light of the beacon, knowing that one wrong step, one false footing could lose them their way, leaving them stranded in the fears of their own imagination. Skal had figured that this man had broke somewhere along the way, maybe the sixth stop, perhaps even sooner. Skal could see the overwhelming terror in the man’s eyes as he got to his feet, lantern in hand and shakily began to move to the edge of darkness.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, not if you’ve been trekking for as long as I think you have. You take one step in that stuff without some rest and it’ll eat you alive.”
The man looked over at Skal with wide eyes, as if noting the hermit’s presence for the first time. He said nothing, gripped the lantern tightly, and continued walking.
“Suit yourself.”
Skal could hear the man sobbing as the darkness swallowed him and his little light whole.

At fourteen bells Skal heard the sound of scuffling feet moving double time, and when he looked to the west a large group of people seemed to materialize through the curtain of blackness. Skal judged them to be about two dozen. He frowned. The stew he’d started making was barely enough to feed them all, let alone himself. Between twelve and fourteen bells was when the larger groups of pilgrims arrived, but he’d never seen so many at once before.
Leading the pack was a tall man, well built and with a long brown beard that covered his face. At a glance one might not not even know, but Skal had seen too many like him, strong men that hid their fatigue and plagued mind behind a sturdy body. It’s the eyes that give it away. 
“Are you the tower master here?”
“I am.”
The man dropped his sack and walked over to Skal while the rest of the group shuffled over to the beacon and collapsed on the ground.
“My name is Feytan, we appreciate your hospitality and anything you have to offer.” “There’s a lot of you,” Skal ignored Feytan’s comment, looking at the group sitting around his tower, “It will be small portions of stew. But what I have is yours.” 
“Thank you.”
“Don’t, it’s my duty, nothing more.”

The hermit’s hut was nothing short of plain. On one side was his bed and a small wardrobe. The hut had a pit in the center where the brown and grey dirt was exposed. Over it hung a large pot where Skal did all of his cooking. The members of the party filed in, their feet dragging, bruised and battered. Most people had a hard time adjusting to the light, but some suffered more than others. One boy seemed to stare off past his bowl into nothingness, his pupils nearly covering the entirety of his iris’. The boy thanked Skal, who noted the tears that dripped into his bowl.
After everyone had been served Skal limped over to the circle, stroking the guide book on the inside of his jacket. He sat down next to Feytan whose eyes were fixed on the glowing light, his face drawn.
“What’s the news from the west? I’ve never seen so many pilgrims cross Abyss at once.”
Feytan’s face darkened, “The land has grown sickly. The water runs black, the grass has withered, and the great houses have turned to barbarism and war.”
“I see,” Skal nodded, more with understanding than sympathy, “So I take it more will be coming?”
“I’m not sure,” Feytan shook his head, “The first two towers have already started to fade. When all the lights go out, it will be impossible to cross. I do not mean to overstep my bounds, but you should considering coming with us now.”
Skal nodded, and looked towards the light that shielded them from the darkness, his hand instinctively reaching for the tower master handbook in his jacket pocket.
“I’ve been stationed here for as long as I can remember. My own teacher taught me the importance of the way. The burden we hermits bear in our solitude. But you see, while it is the light that guides us, it is the void that we must accept with open arms , for we were born in the dark, and it is that which sets us free. The knowledge that without the dark we could never find the light. If all there was in the world was the warm glow of the light, we would be blinded to the path.”
“You’d stay here to die alone?”
For the first time in a long time Skal smiled, “We all die alone.”
Feytan shook his head and stood. His people had already begun to ready their things, 
donning large cloaks around their bodies, and wrapping their feet in fresh cloth to fend off the gravel and dirt.
“I thank you for the food, but we must be going.”
“As you wish.”
Skal watched as one by one the group vanished through the black curtain. His eyes 
lingered then turned to the handbook. In his mind he opened the first page and read the text that he had memorized years ago.
“In darkness we find the light, in the light we find salvation, and through salvation we find peace. Let it be known that you who bear the burden of solitude exist on the border of the two, between light and dark.”
The tower flickered, enveloping Skal in the pitch black for just a moment. He looked up and stared at the large glowing object. It flickered again. He looked west, towards the seventh tower and saw the light go out completely.
“Find peace in the light,”
The tower flickered again, and then began to dim, “Find solace in the void,”
Skal finished the recitation, closing his eyes as the light behind his lids grew dimmer and 

Eventually the light went out completely and Skal found that when he opened his eyes he found no change. Before him he saw black. He stroked the book in his coat and turned east, his feet steadily treading down the path.
Raghav Rao

Three monks are deep into a long journey, though they tread lightly, as if they have only just left.
The eldest offers to tell a story. The others must guess its meaning.
There is no true answer, he assures them, but he will offer his walking staff to the one that makes him laugh.

The Great Khan was a prodigious artist and fond of games. One day, he summoned his closest advisers to examine a painting. He asked them to describe what they saw.
“I see a heron tearing across a cloudless night sky, disappearing into the distance. This is a symbol of your continued grace.”
“I see three herons descending from the heavens. This is a blessing for the years to come.”
The princess, seated with a sleeping kitten in her lap, remarked, “You see nothing but yourselves.” 
“What do you see?” they demanded of her.
“The only thing there is to see: myself.”

Mirror reflects
Monkey sees
Monkey Throw
Colors reflect
Man sees
Wonder Ponders
Man yes
Moneky no
Man guess
Monkey Know

Eyes describe
Heart decides
Together examine
Stimulating colors
Poner cause
Determine effect
Answer truthful
Offense direct
Abuse colorful

The eldest monk gives his staff to the loud monk.
The three monks are now making the return journey. The eldest admits to having lied. His story has an undeniable truth. What is it, he asks.

The princess can afford to be truthful.
The court knows that any request is an implied threat.

When you think, it is for yourself
When you speak, it is for the room.

The eldest monk reclaims his staff, breaks it across his knee, and throws the fragments into the chasm below.

It’s Almost Tomorrow
Michele Castilano

Where the air is opaque, even light can't touch it,
The ground itself is alive, the earth enveloping and absorbing every movement,
Where each sound lingers, hanging in the air, waiting for the next to replace it,
Where the fog never comes in or out- it just remains,
The smoke doesn't rise, it just stays in the air,
Time doesn't exist and certainly doesn't advance,
The steps are indefinite, sequential but leading nowhere,
The horizon stays the same- always far away,
Where the sky never seems to get any bigger.

Fly, My Bedfellow:
Lindsea Bevington

A housefly flew in through my window some spring-times ago. Today is the anniversary of the day I lost track of his arrival. We haven't spoken much. Just the occasional, "your turn to do the dishes. I cooked." Sometimes he does this thing where he giggles at nothing and then waits me for to ask, "what's so funny?" But once I inquire he’ll say something like, “oh, nothing.” It riles me up inside but I love it, and he knows it. 
We’ve grown predictable to one another, like a fork beside a knife. At first I found comfort in it, it was just us—indoors, away from the nuances of caf├ęs and first dates. But something changed. He changed. Perhaps it was the whatnot of domesticated life, or the obligation to make love when clearly neither of us wanted to. All those nights lying awake sharing a bed blinking under our shut eyelids, pretending to be asleep: beside me dreamed a stranger.
“Have you done all your chores?” he asks, looking up from his newspaper, “yes,” I respond meekly. I wait for his approval, a simple, ‘all right then.’ But it’s worse, he says nothing. “It better be spotless,” this time he doesn’t look up, “I’m having guests over this evening.” I lower my head and wait to be dismissed.
It’s this evening and the guests arrive. I’m not supposed to get in the way of their fun so I stay in the bedroom to cut paper into snowflakes. I can smell them smoking with the windows shut. I can hear them breaking dishes against the wall. I accidentally cut too far into one of my snowflakes when the silverware drawer falls to the floor. The fly punts open the door and I already know what I’m being summoned for. We play this fun game called ‘find out where I hid the fish head.’ When I find the fish head I have to put on an apron and do a little dance-singing-duet with the fish head as a puppet. The fly and his friends love it. 
But this time with a mouth gargled in booze he rasps something unexpected, "get your mandolin out! The boys wanna hear some tunes." I put my snowflakes in a safe place and quiver my way to the living room, dragging my mandolin behind me. The floor is covered in shattered glass and soot. Wallpaper falls from the wall. "Sing!" the fly shouts, "sing us—" he belches—"a song!" 
I begin to strum a little off key and hum a little flat, "this one's an original," I begin: "The sun no longer shines on me. Oh, how hairless and broken I am. The neighbors no longer hear my plea. Oh, I’m served like the shank of a ham… served like the shank," I fade out, “of a ham.” They sit staring, silent. A single tear falls to the mandolin. “Wow,” the fat friend declares, “that was really bad.” “Yeah, just awful,” the fly agrees as they all start booing me, “you’ve spoiled the evening. Everyone! Out!” 
The guests break a few more dishes before they leave. It’s just us now, “you’ve made a fool out of me with that sappy song.” I put the mandolin down and grab the fly swatter above the mantelpiece. “Put that down!” he shouts. “No!’ I raise the swatter to the fly, “I should’ve done this years ago!” and swat it.

The Arrival of a Small Painting
Sono Kuwayama

     The painting arrived, shrouded in a black cloth.   In her desire to see the small painting, she did not notice how it was wrapped.  Did it arrive to her like a newborn, swaddled in the infinite darkness from where all life began?   Or as a precious gift, the loving gestures of another, permeating the folds and delicate enveloping?   She did not consider the haphazard, for the small bundle was already cradled in her hands, and called to her.
     She looked at the painting to remember the place, the moment  - and wondered why she felt so sad.   The shroud of black signified a death.   She knew what had died and looked at the three white figures – stepping away, fading into the distance – white and glowing as they transcended the murky soft tissues from which they emerged.  Here, they had found the courage to face the past, the lifetimes that called for love above all else.   They knew it would be lost to them to remember the pacts they made to each other, as they set out on that star filled night, through the darkness, surrounded by the pulsing of blood, the womb that would hold them and set them forth – to meet again, to fulfill intentions that would be forgotten to them.   They glowed like stars, because of course, they were stars.   Even the small holes in the painting allowed the light to shine through the layers of black paint – to remind them, to remind her, that they were truly born of stellar incantations and alchemy.    She longed for a moment, to hold them again in the embrace of her body, to feel them squirming and stretching inside her.  The little painting, at that moment, at that time of the new moon in Leo, could only pull her in full heartedly, fool heartedly into a longing for a past that was now ended.   The blood red marks framing the darkness spoke to her of the passions that allowed life to blossom.
     In a short while, she would swaddle the baby in the darkness of the cosmos and set it off to meet its next encounter – the next iteration of life.  But for now, she lingered, remembered, touched, smelled and watched lifetimes pass, grateful for the company of the painting and what it wanted to talk with her about.

Introduction Sei Smith For most paintings, the beginning is filled with excitement, growing and changing in a constant state of becom...