A gentle gust of the wind moved a strand of his long, white hair over his face. His gaze was firmly set towards the setting sun as if he was soaking it in, as if it was the very reason of his existence. And in the way, I suppose it was. After all, a single painting he did, almost 80 years ago now, made him who he was now. And made me into who I was, also.
I have spent a better part of my adult life taking care of him, helping him in any way I could. He spoke rarely, so I have learned to understand different shades of silence. He moved as little as needed, teaching me the peace of stillness. Being in his presence taught me everything that I know of life that has any relevance. I adored him for something he created as a young man, and yet, I did not understand him.
To possess such a talent, to control such gift, to have the power to create something that millions of people adore and try to phantom, and to throw it all away after creating a masterpiece – for 30 years I have lived with him, walked with him, ate the same meals, breathed the same air, only to try to understand why.
I adore him, it is no secret. I found solace in his eyes and relief in his smile. I learned so much from him. The hues, colours, underpainting, glaze… he was the Master, an artist of full control and more knowledge and talent then I can dream of ever possessing. And yet, he never gave up on me, never uttered a negative word towards me; never lost his patience, never stopped praising me, even when I myself could not see why.
He stopped painting the moment he finished The Ark, his most precious work, a small oil painting of such magnitude it changed the world forever. It changed my world forever. It was 37 years ago that I have seen it for the first time, and I will never, can never forget how it turned my mind inside out within five seconds.
How could so much beauty fit into such a small painting, I wondered then. I have seen The Ark thousands of times in the last thirty years, and have found much more, hidden between the strokes, lurking from the textures and flowing between the coloured curves. The entire world, all of the humanity, each sunset that was ever witnessed by a conscious mind; every heartbreak, every single tear of joy every cried – all if it, in one single painting. It might be an exaggeration, but it doesn’t feel like one. And I am not the only one to have felt this. Hundred of books were written, thousands of poems constructed – all with the same idea, all inspired by the flow of Sacred that The Ark radiated.
It is said that he cried when he finished painting it. It is said that it broke his heart. So many myths were created, trying to explain what he felt, why he painted it, and why there was such an obvious unfinished part at the corner of the painting. And of course, why he never painted anything else after that night.
For the first few years, I tried to push the subject, tried to ask the same questions in so many different ways. All I got was a fragment of a smile and silence, only silence. One day, you will understand, he said once. That was as close to an answer I ever got but now, thirty-five years and thousands of sunrises with him later, I feel the answer dawning within me. It is not clear yet, it is only a blurry thought that appears from time to time unexpectedly, only to dissipate again, leaving me with a strange blend of hope and desperation, until I forget all about it again.
He will die tonight, I know it. He was preparing me silently for this moment for many years now. Everything ends, he told me a long time ago. Everything ends in death, but nothing really dies. Back then I didn’t understand what he meant, or how is death or not-really-dying related to The Ark. I thought he was referring to the fact that The Ark will still be there, revered and admired, long after he dies.
But no, it was something in the actual painting he was referring to, something contained between the frame of the painting, but much, much larger than it. It was not only the sunset he was painting that evening, it was the essence of all sunsets that he captured with his frantic, fast, but perfectly controlled Â movements of the brush. It was Life itself that seeped into the painting. Was this his idea, is that what he wanted? Or was it simply the sunset that his eyes were seeing, but his hands and heart transformed into something so much more.
Why did he leave it unfinished?
I often imagine him, standing there at the shore, looking at the sunset, painting frantically, as fast as he could, trying to keep up with the pace of the Universe; trying to capture the moment that was changing every second in front of his eyes. Did he run out of breath? Did he stop for a moment and realized that he cannot continue, that God would not wait for him to finish his painting. That world will not stop moving, not even for a second. Or he realized at that moment that he is only painting someone else’s painting, that he is trying to capture something that cannot be contained, or reached ever, only pointed to; only simplified and imitated poorly?
I will never know for sure, but right now, watching him as he smiles at his last sunset, I feel that one day I really might understand it, that he was not teaching me how to paint, but how to understand that which I am trying to paint.
He squeezed my hand gently, and pointed at the sunset, warning me not get lost in my thoughts again, but rather to get absorbed into the day’s end. I smiled, bent down and removed the hair from his eyes, securing it gently behind his left ear. The last ray of light touched his face as he closed his eyes and draw a deep breath, one final time. As he exhaled, I understood.