Avant-garde

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fan Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Coming from a suburban, a shy Gina manages to come to New York and stumble upon a strange yet intriguing fellow who's crazy about art.
A short story dedicated to the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Submitted: November 01, 2018

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Submitted: November 01, 2018

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My parents' house made up one realm, yet its boundaries were even narrower, actually embracing only my parents themselves. This realm was old and familiar to me in almost every way--mother and father, love and strictness, model behavior, and school.

The sun blinded Gina as she rocked slowly inside the speeding taxi. It was her first time in the unfamiliar city and her first flight to an unknown place. She was taking it all slowly in as she drank the sight of the tall skyscrapers greeting her. The car unexpectedly halted as the stoplight turned red, making her almost collide with the front seat. The city was dusty and there was early honking despite it being 9 AM. It wasn’t quite the warm greeting Gina was looking forward to, but somehow it was alright.

Coming from a suburban, the somehow shy and anxious Gina made it to New York, the land of opportunity. She was excited to experience the city from the cabs, the hot dog stalls, down to the large hand-tossed pizzas. She was prepared to undergo some decluttering and cleaning of the soul. With her childhood friend’s idea, she quit her office job and decided to pursue what she wanted to do and going to the land of dreams was the first step.

####

Stopping at Tompkins Square Park, Gina slowed and managed to find a bench to cool down. The flowers had already started blooming, spraying down petals upon the beaten ground. Good thing she only had one piece of luggage to drag for she was already sweating despite the cool, spring breeze. Sighing, she took out her small pocket notebook and began to leaf through the pages.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

Gina looked up, the sun making her slightly squint her eyes.

“Yes?” Gina was met with a postcard shoved in front of her face. It surprised her, and she pushed it back.

“May I interest you with some postcards?” The owner of the card was a black man with crazy hair that resembled a tropical tree.

“I’m sorry, but what?” The jetlagged girl was trying to gather the pieces of her sane mind for a moment as she was slightly perplexed by the sudden event.

“Oh, I apologize for my sudden intrusion,” the man took back his card and sat beside her, leaving an inch of distance.

“My name’s Basquiat. But you can call me Jean-Michel. I sell these postcards for a living, but sometimes I sell shirts too. Depends on what comes my way.”

“I see,” Gina said, still a bit overwhelmed. “Well, my name’s Gina. Nice to meet you.”

Basquiat took Gina’s hand and shook it. Awkward silence started filling in the air and Gina’s leg was starting to get jittery. She wasn’t good at socializing nor starting conversations.

“I’m sorry,” chuckled Basquiat. “But you’re a shy one, aren’t ya’?”

“What?” Gina finally met his eyes equally.

Basquiat shrugged. “It’s just that I’ve never met someone so silent. People whom I hang out with just speak whatever.”

“Oh, it’s just that I’m really an introvert,” Gina admitted. “Also, I’m new here. I just arrived this morning.”

“Oh really? Now that’s something.” Basquiat shifted so that his back would align with the bench more comfortably.

“Where you from? Not far?”

“Quite a bit far, really,” Gina released a chuckle. “Decided to quit my boring job to start a life here.”

“Well, we don't have much here,” Basquiat replied much to Gina’s surprise.

Gina’s ponderings were sooner cut off by Basquiat’s change of topic. “What do you think about these paintings?”

Gina looked at the said postcards. There were twelve abstract paintings that Gina couldn’t quite comprehend. They were out of the norm, alien-like for her. They seemed like random caricatures that children would doodle over on walls. But at the same time, there was something strange that drew Gina to the said art.

“They’re…” Gina was struggling to find kind words that would serve as a compliment. “… well-done.” She finished off awkwardly.

Basquiat merely chuckled. “You don’t need to give some forced answers, Gina. Just tell me what you think.”

“Well, I can’t really understand them.” Gina said honestly.

“You mean they kind of look lousy, don’t you?”

The frankness caught Gina by surprise, but she said, “Yes. It does seem so.”

“Well,” Basquiat leafed through the couple postcards, examining them. “That’s because I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life.”

Gina was somehow caught mesmerized by his words. She looked at the postcards again and they kind of made sense after hearing Basquiat’s part. They depicted expression and complete freedom. It was art that had no reins; art that was random, yet, intriguing at the same time.

“Or that’s what I try to say to myself. I just want to make paintings that look like they were made by a child,” Basquiat sniggered.

“Anyway, want to get some pancakes down the road? I know a good diner from here.”

This made Gina’s eyes widen. “Pancakes? You’re inviting me to eat when I’m just a stranger?”

“Well, we’ve talked and introduced ourselves. We’re no longer strangers, aren’t we?”

Gina blinked for a moment as she was bewildered by the man’s openness.

“Come on. Let’s go get something to eat.”

Basquiat stood up and offered Gina a hand. Deciding that the offer was too good to be refused anyway, Gina took the offer and went along with Basquiat for a morning meal.

####

Accompanied with a pleasant chime of bells at the entrance, the newly-acquainted strangers let themselves in on the diner and sat at the table nearest the door. The chef who was tall and had a bit of belly fat concealed in a dirty apron gave the pair dirty looks. Seemed like Basquiat was an unwelcomed guest here, Gina deduced.

“What can I get for you?” a middle-aged lady from the counter approached with a pad on her hand.

“Pancakes, please. Also, some coffee. Black, no sugar,” Basquiat said with ease as if he’s said the phrase countless times.

“I’ll have the same as his.” Gina said to the lady, afraid of taking too long to decide on what to order.

“Coming right up,” the lady said as she tottered her way to the counter to shout the orders.

“So, what are you planning to do in New York, Gina? Got a place to stay?”

“I’m still looking for one. I know a friend who can lend me her place for the night.”

“Sweet,” Basquiat whistled. “I’ve just been sleeping on a cardboard box at the park where you saw me.”

“Wow, that must be tough,” Gina said with sympathy. Gina suddenly felt grateful for her situation compared to Basquiat’s. And to think she was depressed about it for some time before coming here.

"Well, can’t be helped. Things one must do for a living. I enjoy my work anyway.”

Basquiat took the maple container and spilled some onto the table, using a menu to spread it all over. Gina was baffled at the sudden act; her eyebrows rising, but she did not even bother to question the man.

After spreading the coat of maple evenly, the artist took a fork and doodled on the layer. This surprised Gina. The man was surely creative in his ways, even though it was strange at times.

The doodle appeared to be a woman with feline-like eyes. It wasn’t a minute later and the lady with their orders arrived, putting down the pancakes and two mugs of coffee on the table. Gina was further perplexed with the lady not even batting an eye to the mess that Basquiat made. She simply left without a word as if, this had already happened a lot of times.

“So whaddya’ think?” Basquiat gained Gina’s attention.

“It’s more detailed,” Gina could say. It was a step up from his postcard caricatures and more of a discernible art than his doodled ones.

“But it definitely lacks the spirit of the postcards. It seems to be dull almost after seeing the odd caricatures.” Gina added to her own surprise.

“Now you understand,” Basquiat chuckled. “Believe it or not, I can actually draw. For a while, I was drawing on good paper, but now I've gone back to the bad stuff. I just put matte medium on my works. If you put matte medium on it, it seals up, so it doesn't really matter.” Basquiat shrugged, “Maybe, I just like kids' work more than work by real artists.”

“Believe it or not, I think you’re an amazing artist,” Gina spoke truthfully. She was fascinated by Basquiat’s every word. He seemed crazy at first with his hobo get-up; dirty shirt accompanied with some washed-out jeans, finished up with shoes that had holes at its heels. But the more Gina listened to him, the more Gina was seeing his genius.

“You should make yourself an exhibition, you know that?”

Basquiat chuckled. “My homey, Benny also said the same thing. Asked him how long it took to be famous. He said it took four years. Six, to get rich.”

The artist continued to toy with his drawing, ignoring the hot pancakes in front of him. “He said to just do the same work, the same kind of style so that people will recognize my art and don’t get confused.”

“That’s why you’re doing the postcards?”

“Yeah, and some graffiti work too.”

“See this sign right here?” Basquiat pointed out the corner of his maple drawing.

“A crown?” Gina said with uncertainty as she was looking at it the opposite way. “And some words with additional lines?”

“You got that right. I think every line means something. It’s a signature that I often put into my works.”

Gina was captivated. The man in front of her had an extreme passion for art down to his core. She was moved by him. Rather, it opened a new understanding for her of one of the simplest, yet, one of the most important things in life. It was just doing what you love and pouring effort into it each day. Simple, yet, it was extremely beautiful.

“What made you pursue art?” She asked.

Basquiat gave off a solemn smile and ducked his head down. “It was my mother. A shame that she’s in a mental institution now. She used to be real good at art; was the one who inspired me. Now, people look at her like she’s crazy.”

“I see,” Gina’s voice wavered off. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Nah, it’s all good,” Basquiat replied cheekily. “Problems can easily be covered up by havin’ a few puffs here and there. Nothing an old smoke can’t do,” He chuckled.

“I don’t exactly have a comfy life. Barely got any money for food. Barely got any distractions, too. Like art and cigar to ease it all off. Not exactly the happiest kind and sometimes, I even want to give up on living.”

Gina continued to listen to the artist’s heavy words.

“But as they say,” Basquiat paused. “Everything just goes and will definitely pass.  Every day I stay since both people and pain will all die one day. I just got to do what I have to do before it all goes, my life included.”

Gina smiled at the artist.

“You’re right.” Gina looked at the black liquid that she was cradling in her two hands as she looked at her reflection. “I’ve barely begun my journey, yet I was thinking of giving up.”

She looked up and faced the artist. “But with your words, they give me a bit of strength and certainty. Thank you, Basquiat, for sharing your heart and passion to me.”

The artist chuckled. “No, I thank you for keeping me company, Gina. Our meeting is quite the impossible odd, but that again proves how everything doesn’t need to follow proper order.”

With that said, the two proceeded to enjoy their morning meal, chattering away their lives and the passion they have pursued as the morning light shone on them accompanied with the scent of spring.

 


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