Artistic License

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Author’s Note:

From time to time, I write stories with a male writer — usually another Lit reader. I really enjoy bouncing ideas back and forth and hearing the male perspective. This is the first joint venture I have published on Lit and hopefully not the last. I’d really welcome any constructive feedback by PM, so please do get in touch.

Thanks to Nev_Enough for writing this with me.

Artistic License

“I’ve drafted that email, David. Would you like to read it?”

The Assistant Curator no doubt thought she would be doing more important things than writing form letters when she took on this position. Her black, figure-hugging dress, inky pixie-cut hair and deep red lips certainly made her look the part, but in reality most of her time was spent editing spreadsheets and following up on David’s “inspired” whims. She knew that most young women in the industry would kill for her job though – and David knew it too. It was not that David deliberately sought out menial tasks for Amanda to do, but if he was honest, he did get some pleasure from the subservient dynamic between him and this attractive young woman nearly half his age. David sensed that maybe Amanda enjoyed the power play too. He seemed to have that effect on women.

“I’m sure it’s fine. Just make sure it doesn’t hold me to anything. I don’t want to be bound.”

You on the other hand, Amanda… A smirk almost played out on his lips as he let the double entendre skip through his mind.

“Of course, David. I’ve made it clear that there are no guarantees.”

“Ok. Let’s send it then. Please block out the times in my calendar when we hear back from people, but no more than four in a day – and keep them all close by. Put them tentatively in your calendar as well – I might want you to come along.”

The idea of meeting with artists and helping plan an exhibition thrilled Amanda, almost as much as the possibility of having Amanda join him for a drink after a day of studio visits, appealed to David.

With imperceptibly flushed cheeks and a grateful smile, Amanda returned to her desk and hit ‘send’ on the email, delivering it straight to the inboxes of thirty-four early and mid-career female artists across the country.

Dear ******,

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is undertaking a significant survey of contemporary female Australian artists whose practices engage with the performative role of the female body in the formation of public and private identity/ies. We are planning a series of studio visits with selected artists from the Inner West in the next two weeks and would like to confirm your interest and availability on Friday 19th at approximately 2.00pm.

With a significant volume of research to undertake in the development of this exhibition, we are unfortunately unable to accommodate an alternative day or time. I should also stress that a studio visit by myself or one of my colleagues should not be construed as an offer of inclusion in the exhibition.

Yours sincerely,

David White

Senior Curator, Contemporary Australian Art

AGNSW

*****

Katie stared at the email on her laptop screen so hard, that the words started to blur. A visit from AGNSW? The Senior Curator himself?

Was this spam or genuine? Her heart rate started accelerating and her mind was racing with possibilities. She pulled her long brown hair out of its ponytail and fiddled with a piece, twisting the ends of a strand between her fingers. It was something she did subconsciously when she was nervous or excited.

She swivelled on her chair and looked across her art studio. She called it a studio, but it was just a sunny granny flat behind a large two-story brick house. The owners of the property were an older, professional couple, who rented Katie a room in their home — one that used to belong to their adult daughter.

When she came to view the bedroom, she had seen the external building from the window and asked what they used it for. When they told her it sat empty, her blue eyes lit up and she cheekily asked if she could take a look.

One step inside and she knew the space was perfect. Full of natural light, bright and airy, with a separate bathroom. She offered them double the monthly rent, to include the granny flat and she asked to turn it into an art studio. She did not expect them to say yes, but here she was, two years later.

Katie had earned her income through selling her paintings at local markets for more than five years. She also rented out her art to interior designers, local restaurants and a few offices. She often received large commissions through word of mouth or from someone who had seen a piece of her work on display.

She earned a reasonable salary, but not enough to buy her own place. Now hitting her late 20s, she wondered if she would be content to live like this forever. She had long given up on the possibility that she would be “discovered” – there were just too many talented artists around for her to stand out.

This email though…….it made her believe she had a chance — eryaman escort bayan slim? Yes, but still a chance. Nervously she picked up her phone to call the AGNSW. She needed to be sure this was not a hoax.

*****

“Australian Contemporary. Amanda speaking.”

The phone number that Katie had dialled, from the bottom of the email had put her straight through to the Curatorial Department. This was the kind of number usually shrouded in secrecy to prevent a constant onslaught of uninvited exhibition pitches from novice painters and young hopefuls.

“Um, hi. Is David there?” Katie regretted how both unsure and familiar the question sounded as soon as it escaped her lips.

“Can I ask who’s speaking?” Amanda – a fraction less agreeably, replied. Katie was being screened.

“Ah, sure. It’s Katie Cummings. I received an email from David about…”

The name registered with Amanda just before she cut Katie short.

“Oh right – you’re one of those on the email list… the studio visit next week, right?”

Amanda’s words were for David’s benefit whose attention she had caught through his open office door. An exaggerated shake of her head, with eyebrows raised announced to David that he didn’t need to take the call.

“I’m afraid David is unavailable right now. I can make a note of your availability for the visit though if you like. Unfortunately, we can’t offer alternative times though. There’s quite a few visits to get through.”

Amanda got a kick out of subtly undermining any significance the artist on the other end of the phone might have assumed about the email she had received. The gradual deflation was evident in Katie’s response.

“No. I mean yes. Of Course. Friday the 19th at 2 p.m. is fine. I just thought David might need my address… my studio address, I mean.”

“Absolutely,’ Amanda affirmed, “I can grab that from you.”

A slight pause punctuated the conversation while one last stab formed in her mind and rolled off her tongue. “You know, it might not be David who attends anyway. I’ll pass on the information to whoever gets the task that day.”

“Oh, ok. Thanks,” Katie managed to utter. She gave Amanda her address, before being wished a good day. Amanda entered the details in their calendars and promptly forgot the short exchange.

David had heard snippets of the conversation. He’d returned his attention to his computer screen after Amanda’s hyperbolic caution, scrolling through jpegs of works by artists whose studios he was soon to visit.

He knew quite well what Amanda could be like, even though she’d only worked in the Department for about six months. Part of it was no doubt an insecurity about her position at the Gallery. She probably felt a need to elevate herself to appear more important than she was. He did wonder though if some of it was also jealousy. Artists were always vying for David’s attention and among those was a generous contingent of aspiring young female artists. David particularly enjoyed that attention. He didn’t mind the idea of Amanda’s jealousy either.

*****

Katie ended the call and let out a whoosh of breath. That Amanda person was really rude and her tone was so dismissive. She tried not to let her excitement be quashed since the email was genuine. The AGNSW was really coming to see her!

Oh God, she hoped that snobby cow wasn’t the one doing the viewing. Who was Amanda anyway and had that awkward phone call ended Katie’s chances, before they had even begun?

Katie did a Google search for the Art Gallery and clicked their website link. She went straight to the “About Us” section and hoped to find a photo of Amanda, so she could put a face to a name. She imagined a woman in her mid-fifties, lonely and sad with a boring sex life. She chuckled to herself as the image of her year 9 head teacher, from her old school appeared in her mind. Disappointingly, there were no images of the team on the AGNSW website and Katie brushed aside her bitchy thoughts and focused her attention to her art.

What pieces should she showcase? She had over a dozen finished paintings and some were stored at her parent’s house. She was always running out of space in the studio and had to drive back and forth to their place every month, depending on market days or direct sales and rental requests from her website.

She picked up her phone and scrolled through photos of the paintings she had taken to her parents’ house. There were a few there that she loved and wanted to show the AGNSW, so she made a mental note to drive over to their place at the weekend to pick them up.

Her eyes flicked over to a huge piece of work that was currently taking up half a wall of the studio. It was nowhere near completion, and she had given herself a deadline of two weeks. Her eyes narrowed as she contemplated. Could she get it done, with less than a week to go? It was showing a lot of promise and she felt excited every time she worked on it. She had that tingling sensation that she was creating something quite special, but did she want to rush it and possibly ankara escort ruin it?

Katie, like other artists she knew had spurts of intense creativity where she would paint from morning until past midnight for days on end and then when that spark disappeared, she’d feel absolutely no inspiration for weeks. It would be a huge shame if this current piece could not be judged as a completed piece and Katie felt greatly inspired to finish it for Friday’s meeting.

For six days, Katie barely slept as she painted round the clock. It was like someone had lit a fire up her ass and she could not stop. Her parents had even called in to her studio, with five of her paintings to save her the drive to their home on the northern beaches.

Finally, the night before the meeting, it was done and she was overjoyed. She hoped it would impress the AGNSW. Feeling mentally and physically exhausted, she stumbled into the tiny bathroom and splashed water on her face. She looked at her reflection and took in her messy hair, pale face and bloodshot eyes. Jesus, she looked a mess. Thank God they were judging her work and not her appearance!

Tomorrow was going to be a significant day, but thankfully the meeting was in the afternoon. She could have a lie-in, put on a decent outfit and even attempt to put on some make-up. Hopefully she’d be presentable for whomever they sent from the Gallery.

*****

The Uber was a black Audi A6 with a tan leather interior and smoky grey tinted glass. David could never understand why people who drove cars like this would bother schlepping around town picking up random strangers for a measly twenty-five bucks a pop. Some were rentals, he guessed, while maybe others needed the side hustle just to meet the finance on the vehicle. Whatever the arrangement, it reeked of uncouth aspiration.

David wasn’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. He wasn’t poor either, but what he lacked in zeros on the end of his bank account, he made up for with cultural credibility. He knew his stuff – and he knew the people who made the stuff he knew. It was why the benefactors swarmed around him at exhibition openings and private Gallery events. There was only one Senior Curator of Contemporary Australian Art at Sydney’s premier Art Gallery, after all.

“I hope they’re not all that underwhelming,” David said to himself as much as to Amanda.

She was sitting behind the driver while he slumped back in the other corner of the back seat.

There was nothing that impressed David in the studio they’d just left – a space shared by two artists in the back streets of Marrickville. At least they’d shown him paintings, he’d conceded. The majority of those on his long list worked with video or photography or performance – and mostly in a way that demanded thought rather than experience, but even these two painters seemed to be illustrating ideas, as opposed to making their audience feel anything.

“Where to next?” he quizzed.

David’s eye locked onto Amanda’s slender wrist as she reached into the bag on the floor between her feet. Retrieving a single sheet of A4 paper displaying both images and text, David’s glance this time lingered on the inside of her knee while Amanda read from the page.

“Katie Cummings. SCA graduate, 2014. Painter. Kind of Jenny Saville meets Louise Hearman – but with a little more of Henson’s eroticism, perhaps. I don’t know. They’re not exactly sexual, but there’s definitely something ‘fleshy’ about them.”

David had already stopped listening. Instead, he’d continued his inspection along the soft white skin of Amanda’s inner thigh – perhaps some twenty silky centimetres – until it disappeared under the hem of a houndstooth mini skirt. The slim-fit white blazer she wore – a rare departure from her usual black attire accentuated the shape of her smallish breasts, its plunging neckline suggesting she might not be wearing anything else underneath.

“She’s not far from here,” Amanda continued, but David was only half hearing her words.

While the car crept through the city’s laneways and side streets, he found himself imagining what might be waiting under Amanda’s clothing. White lingerie today, he guessed. Perhaps plain white panties? Lace g-string? Something sheer?

David could envisage her getting ready for work at home. There would be a full-length mirror angled against the wall. He wasn’t picturing her naked – not this time. She’d just be standing there in her underwear, her slender figure waiting for the outfit laid out on the nearby bed. Red lips. Black mascara. Fingers tracing the length of her torso from the bottom of her throat, across the skin between her breasts, down to just below her navel.

He could go on like this all day.

The sudden stop jolted him back to reality. David’s face warmed as he met Amanda’s glance and wondered how long she had been watching him.

“I guess this is it,” he said, eager to remove himself from the car first, with time to adjust the bulge in his pants before Amanda joined him on the footpath.

*****

Sunlight sincan escort bayan hit her face through the gauzy white curtains on her bedroom window and Katie groaned into her pillow. I really should get blackout curtains, she thought to herself.

Rubbing her eyes, she peered over at her bedside clock. Nearly 11.30 a.m. She sat bolt upright. Shit! She’d slept through her alarm. Dammit, she was hoping to be up at 10 a.m., to tidy her studio and arrange the paintings in some kind of order.

She slumped back onto the bed and gave a weary sigh, he/she will just have to take her and her paintings as they found them. She had crawled into bed at 2 a.m. that morning and her body clearly needed to catch up on sleep. Feeling lethargic, she slowly rolled herself out of bed. A shower. A long cold shower and she would be wide awake.

After shocking her body with icy water, Katie felt more alert and put on a pale blue wrap dress. It was quite plain, but hugged her curves and showed off a hint of cleavage. She really didn’t want anything too garish or bold to distract them from her work and hoped to just blend into the background.

Without thinking, she grabbed a hair tie in one hand and started to gather her thick hair up into a ponytail. A force of habit to keep her hair back when painting. Halfway through pulling her hair into the elastic, she stopped. No, she’d let it hang loose for a change. The dark tresses tumbled back down and she finger combed the waves to release any knots.

She disliked wearing make-up, but her face still looked pale and there were faint circles under her eyes. A light foundation and concealer fixed all that, together with a tiny bit of blush on her cheeks and pale pink gloss on her lips, so she didn’t look like a faded picture. She had naturally long and thick lashes, which was a blessing as she loathed mascara. It always clumped and formed black marks around her eyes.

Downstairs was all quiet, as her landlords had already left for work. She grabbed a cup of tea, then went to the studio where she spent the next hour tidying up and arranging her work around. With such limited space, there was only so much she could do and with ten minutes left before the appointment time, she ran back into the main house. From the studio, she would not be able to hear the doorbell and she did not want to risk missing them.

As the seconds ticked by, she was feeling more and more nervous and found herself going to the bathroom twice with an urge to pee.

“Calm down, Katie. If they don’t like them, it’s ok. You still have your business, a solid income and a good customer base.” Her mother’s words rang in her ears and she knew it was true, but it didn’t make her feel much better right at that moment.

The doorbell rang loudly, just as she was about to head to the bathroom for a third time and her heart rate kicked up a notch.

She ran her fingers through her hair again and pasted on a bright smile, before opening the front door.

Her smile faltered when she was greeted with not one person, but two smartly dressed people on the doorstep. One was a tall man, who looked rather serious and had the good looks of someone who knew it. He wore a fitted dark blue suit jacket that showed off his broad shoulders and a crisp white shirt underneath. This contrasted with a pair of slim cut pale blue jeans that hugged his long legs and a pair of black and white converse sneakers. It was kind of a preppy chic look that worked on him.

Next to him, a head shorter in height, was an attractive brunette, whose bright red lips were pursed together in distaste. She wore an expensively tailored suit and impractical 3-inch nude-coloured heel.

“Hi. I’m Katie……” she waited for them to introduce themselves.

*****

“Amanda Spark. Assistant Curator, Contemporary Australian Art,” the brusque woman offered, through those attention demanding lips. “And this is David White, Senior Curator, Contemporary Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales.”

Ahhh so this was the rude cow she had spoken to on the phone, thought Katie. Not a headmistress looking type at all, but young and pert. Pretty too — if only she smiled and showed some enthusiasm for being there. Even her introduction was stilted and formal — like someone reading from their LinkedIn profiles. David however, offered her an easy smile which ignited his blue eyes and made Katie feel a little self-conscious.

The presumptuous Amanda took a step forward in a move towards the front door.

“Oh no. Sorry. My studio is around the back.”

Katie could have taken them through the house, but the furnishings and decor of her landlords’ place, set a scene of someone approaching their 30s, still living with their parents. Too many unnecessary assumptions and questions to address. She pulled the door behind her and almost skipped down the three steps that funnelled them away from the house.

Banishing a moment of fluster, Amanda turned on her heels to shadow Katie as she led the pair across the lawn and down a side driveway. A more casual David trailed a few steps behind, initially taking in the mid-century modernist stylings of home and surrounding yard, only to be captured moments later by the view of the two young women parading down the concrete runway in front of him.

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