One of my friends is an artist. He paints pictures. He has invited me to an exhibition of his latest work in a little gallery on Curved Street. I think it is going to be quite a social event, based on the way the invitation card looks: elegant, minimalist with a neat design, but the paper and the color print must have cost him a small fortune. “Wear a suit” he added in his handwriting on the back of the card.
I am proud of having an artist for a friend. I feel like an artist myself when I am with him. There were days when we were together all the time. We were almost inseparable. We spent many evenings together in bars drinking and enjoying ourselves. He was the Bohemian who supplied us with originality and I was the one who paid for the drinks.
I was determined to go the exhibition. I wanted to see my old friend again. So I had my best suit cleaned and pressed and set out.
There were already people there when I came to the gallery. When I opened the glass entrance door a young beautiful lady smiled at me and handed me a guide to the exhibition. I never take these, because I never read them, but now I took it and thanked her. There was written in big letters “The Desert” which was the name of the exhibition. I put it in my jacket and I looked around to see what to do next. There were people standing in groups and chatting and being terribly interested in each other and the topic of their conversation, and some loners standing apart and looking at the canvasses alone. I did not know the art-circle people any longer, so I joined the loners and made a round of the paintings.
I walked past some and studied them, but soon I realized they were all the same. Every new painting was almost identical with the preceding one. There was a section of desert and a caravan: a couple of camels, some people, probably families, but actually only silhouettes. And a lot of sand everywhere, and a clear sky above it all. They were walking somewhere. In every picture they moved a little further, but apart from their bent legs and different shapes of clothes, the pictures were all the same.
I did not get what it was about. So I took the information sheet from my jacked and skimmed through it.
“Don’t frown, it makes you look old.” It was my friend. He smiled at me, confidently.
“I’ve been traveling. And this is the result of my travels.” He waved his hand around. We had not seen each other for a long time. He moved closer to me, hands in his pockets, and stopped before the painting I had been trying to understand.
“You know, everything is round in the desert. There are no sharp angles. The wind smoothes every shape and makes it round. The sand creates tiny waves on the surface. As if the desert was exposing its ribs. Little clusters of dust are flying above the surface and cover the desert with transparent skin.
And when you walk in the desert, your feet sink gently into the powdery sand. I would expect there would be a crust, but there is none. And everything is perfectly dry. When you lift your foot to make another step, the foot does not leave its image in the sand. There is only a shapeless hole, soon to be swallowed again by the desert.”
“This is how I felt in the desert…swallowed. In the desert you feel like you were in need of another language. You keep saying I. I know. I think. Yes, I do. I will. English is an egocentric language. But there you don’t want to stress your individuality any more, because you are afraid. The desert sees you as an intruder.”
“I was thinking about writing a book about my travels. But I could not find the right words, so I returned to what I can do and that is painting. I am fascinated by the desert. I wanted to highlight the vastness of it, the power and the continuous presence of it. And how every moment matters, because in the desert things disappear quickly, so you have to take notice of them when they happen. That’s why I painted all pictures nearly the same. I captured the desert during a single process. In the last picture the caravan leaves the painting and there is only the desert again. There are holes in the sand where the caravan passed, but they will be erased soon by the wind. Only the desert is still there.”
I was overcome by the exhibition. On my way home, I was thinking of what he had said about the desert and his pictures. He kept stressing the desert all the time, but for me the most interesting thing was the caravan. The people, who were walking from right to left, from one frame of the painting to another, that was what I liked. And not the tons of lifeless sand. If it was up to me to say what the pictures are about, I would definitely say about the caravan. But that is just one point of view. I would say that you have to do everything you can to catch the caravan, because it passes so quickly and does not return again. If you can see the caravan, it means that you still have a chance. And if you stay in the desert, the chance is gone and you are lost. In the last picture my old friend remained with the desert. I would follow the caravan wherever it would lead me.