Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus.
Held in suspension by an unseen balance of forces the great globe hung low over the linked cluster of buildings in East Snoak. From a distance its surface appeared perfectly reflective, but closer to it displayed constantly swirling polychromatic patterns reminiscent of a soap-bubble. Every so often, to the delight of spectators, somewhere on its periphery vagrant trails of colour would coalesce, and a luminous blob would momentarily detach itself, before dissipating to leave a slowly fading rainbow glow.
Designed by eminent architech Gurm Weiger, this installation was a tribute to Farny Farglesharp, in celebration of twenty-five years of the Art Market, which had its humble beginnings in what had once been an abandoned hut, and now occupied a sprawling network of converted warehouses set between the outer ring road around Praspafole Stadium and the fashionably elegant glitter of Yarp Street.
Farny's parents had led busy working lives; his mother Helba as a consultant nutritionist, his father Teir as a soil analyst. These enlightened practitioners of scientific method did not attempt to impose a career path on their gawky restless son, who for all his natural inquisitiveness in his late teens had entered that phase of development when intelligible communication seemed only permissible among peers. At home he spent valuable time contemplating his body-image, cultivating a look of fierce concentration which closely resembled a defiant scowl, and responding to polite questions with condensed packets of information encoded as grunts.
Eventually, out of genuine curiosity rather than rebellion, Farny had chosen to enrol at Sparagulan College to study Art. He did not think of himself as an aspiring artist, but had often gravitated to the art books in his school library, and had definite preferences among the many works reproduced, although he could not as yet explain why some gave him pleasure, some left him feeling uncomfortable, while others failed to leave much impression on him at all. He knew enough to feel that in those works that caught his interest there was something akin to a conjuror's sleight of hand, and he wanted to pry out those secrets.
He was also curious to know why so many people devoted their lives to art, and how exactly did one recognize a masterpiece? What was it that distinguished the truly exceptional from the merely highly accomplished? And who were best qualified to be the arbiters: fellow-artists, cultural historians, wealthy collectors or the democratic majority?
After a year under the tutelage of Lugfaus Goltz, Professorial Head of the Art Department and a sculptor of some distinction, Farny was slightly better informed, having acquired a grounding in art history and techniques, but was more aware than before of the limits of his knowledge. In the second year Goltz encouraged his students to experiment, allowing them to discover for themselves the transformational potential of solid materials; how easily they could be carved, moulded, filed, chiselled, glued or welded into a desired shape. They were asked to examine examples of different rocks and minerals to determine their artistic potential. Farny became fascinated by the chemistry of pigments. At home, with the benefit of helpful guidance from the respective disciplines of Teir and Helba, using an array of powdered and liquefied substances, he worked out for himself how to create the most satisfying colours.
By the end of the third and final year, although the answers to some of his larger questions remained elusive, Farny Farglesharp thought he might have found his métier. He had studied the philosophies underlying successive artistic movements, and could identify the work of their best exponents. Professor Goltz had succeeded in teasing out his latent skills, and if called upon, he could now produce a convincing portrait, landscape or abstract composition with an implement as rudimentary as a burnt twig. He could fashion a themed collage from found objects. He had worked with fabrics, wood, clay, glass, metal, stone and artificial materials, and now had an understanding of the range of tools and craftsmanship required. But his real enthusiasm was for the palette; for the spectrum of paints, inks and dyes which lent richness and subtlety to the artist's chosen surface.
Among his most like-minded college friends was Pirian Leems, a quietly studious painter of exquisite miniatures. Shortly after graduating they decided to spend some time travelling abroad. Pirian was not only widely read, but possessed the enviable knack of being able to locate, seemingly by instinct, the best cuisine and the most stimulating beverages for the lowest possible price in any given area. Farny, who suspected that Pirian possessed a remarkable combination of keen observation and an acute sense of smell, had casually wondered aloud whether this vital ability only worked in Snoak, or would it also apply in foreign parts? Pirian had risen to the challenge, and they had soon concluded that there were after all other important reasons for undertaking such a trip. With a list of contacts gathered from Farny's own researches and supplemented by a few names cajoled from Lugfaus Goltz, together they visited workshops and studios, a host of galleries, a marine processing plant, an industrial chemist, a spice merchant and various retailers of craft materials. Needless to say, Pirian's tracking aptitude was put to the test, and he unerringly led the way to a succession of taverns, cafés, refectories and restaurants of which Farny had seen no advance notice, and was duly deeply impressed. Four months later, brimming with enthusiasm, convivial memories, a wealth of useful knowledge and such a large quantity of samples they had to invest in a glidecart, they embarked on their return journey.
The hut had belonged to Pirian Leems' grandfather, who had once burdened its shelves with grey slabs bearing the imprint of cycads, lumps of stone harbouring ancient trilobites, and other dark, weighty evidence of long-perished life. These fossils had been auctioned after his grandfather's death, as the old man had stipulated, to Pirian's later financial benefit, although the lad would have been content with his childhood gift of a small polished ammonite whose chambered helical geometry had always fascinated him, and which he still cherished. The hut had remained empty and abandoned until his friend Farny had half-jokingly mentioned that he needed somewhere to play with his pigments, and gradually the idea took shape of a colour laboratory which could function as a practical enterprise, perhaps even a profitable one. Farny was confident he could manufacture many of his products more cheaply than most of those sold commercially, and he could guarantee their superior quality. He planned on supplementing his specialist pigments with a carefully selected range of other art and craft materials obtained at a discount from reputable suppliers.
Pirian was happy to spend some of what he called his "fossil fund" on refurbishing the hut. He had it virtually rebuilt, with the addition of plumbing facilities, light-sensitive windows and thermostatically-controlled storage containers, and had ordered a few items of automated equipment " to lessen the chance of injury and to reduce unnecessary mess," as he explained. Grimy and dishevelled after sorting and bundling a fresh batch of willow charcoal, Farny conceded that he was willing to make sensible compromises. As a mutually agreed afterthought, at the back they added an extended porch or corridor which served as a gallery in which to display and sell on commission the best work they could find by promising artists in any medium. This section initially housed some of Pirian's miniatures and a bronze entitled Frogsplash 2, generously donated by Lugfaus Goltz.
After a further six weeks of preparation Farny and Pirian began advertising the Art Hut. The College magazine Splark! ran a full-page feature, and they distributed handouts and placed posters on notice boards in as many of Snoak's public places as would have them, and even along a few random thoroughfares like 20bird Lane, The Scruttings and Upper Stirrow Bridge. The offer of free samples to the first fifty visitors was a bit of a gamble, but paid dividends by attracting not only the anticipated groups of college students, but also the curiosity and admiration of a few people with a professional interest and greater spending power.
Within a year the Art Hut had an established clientèle, regular orders from several studios and educational institutions (including Sparagulan College), and was ready to start expanding. Pirian's miniatures were selling well, and other painters and sculptors whose work they both respected were seeking gallery space, including the Post-Prandialist Irkel Upquap, then at work on progressively more convoluted versions of his looping structures in polished metal: brightly interweaving ribbons varying in thickness from that of a spoon handle to the girth of a human torso. The sculptor described these as 'experiments in non-contiguous spatial dynamics', although one unkind critic said the effect was of a roller-coaster being digested by a drunken snake. Another interested potential exhibitor was the young Tortica Doublebud, already notorious for her innovative series of interactive metaportraits, where the sensation of eyes following you around the room was manifested in ways that some found physically intrusive.
Over the next few years Farny and Pirian negotiated with Commercial Planning at Central over the acquisition and conversion of the nearby derelict buildings, formerly transport depots before the advent of freightway and podport. Once reconstruction was satisfactorily in progress they set about recruiting additional staff. There was no shortage of applicants from the College, both among students seeking part-time work and among recent graduates. Pirian, who had often wished to devote more time to his painting, gradually withdrew from direct participation in the business. It was he who suggested that the complex should be renamed Farglesharp's Art Market in honour of Farny's extraordinary commitment and enterprise.
By the time the largest of the former depots was approved for renovation, Farny had agreed to sponsor a College competition for the best design, the only specification being that the building was to be used primarily as a display space for works both two-and three-dimensional. The students' entries ranged from the uncomplicatedly minimalist (internal space left totally empty) to the seriously expensive (sliding walls, retractable ramps, adjustable stair units, mobile plinths, anacoustic recesses, variable glow chambers, modular formstax, Trovius cabinets and motion-activated hotos). The winning design, awarded a cash prize and a generous gift box of art materials, was a sensible compromise between optimal natural light and stylishly discreet toilet facilities.
The finished building became the venue for some memorable exhibitions: Kreft Nuyl's monumental Sailstones, whose appearance belied their true fragility, the magnificent Black Fire tapestries of Tosmor Shaunt, and the Hundred Hidden Doors, that tantalizingly labyrinthine creation of Hirelle Degdard, from which bemused spectators would emerge in a trance-like state, having lost all sense of time, place and direction. The artist herself modestly declined to be interviewed, stating only that she would like her work to speak for itself. This did not prevent critics from offering their own interpretations, but the consensus was that moving through the gauzy intricacy of this structure was a unique and mysterious experience. Lurid reports appeared in the Quanderpyre Press alleging that two people wearing short cloaks and thought to be from Smatparrox had actually failed to re-appear after entering this exhibit, but these reports were never substantiated. The two people were not identified, although Ebby Blates at the Multimart was overheard saying that she wouldn't be surprised if they turned out to be those two arty friends of her second husband's cousin Zole.
Curiously enough, at about that time there seemed to have been a spate of rumours about people from Smatparrox going missing, but it took more than uncorroborated gossip to disturb the equanimity of Snoak City residents, hardly any of whom are likely to have known either of the two acquaintances of Ebby Blates' husband's cousin. These two currently unemployed Smatparrox-based individuals were in fact Fucis Gawl and Legger Rambersack, who shared the slight distinction of having had a few dyspeptic poems published in local hand-printed magazines with (numerically) a very modest readership. To assert their dedication to the muse they had taken to wearing cravats, silk-lined capes and wide-brimmed black hats in an emulous attempt to revive what they believed was a once fashionable literary tradition, but most people assumed they had been hired to perform tricks at a children's party. As it happened, at the time of the alleged vanishing among the Hundred Hidden Doors they were on home ground, sitting at their habitual table in Quoil's, having an intensely heated argument about boiled eggs; specifically, whether a boiled egg with its shell removed is more correctly described as 'shelled' or 'unshelled'. They both passionately believed that such debates about the nuances of language could only enhance their development as poets. If Farny Farglesharp can achieve public recognition in only a quarter of a century, who is to say that the names of Gawl and Rambersack may not yet be honoured by posterity?
© Les Sklaroff 2016 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 11:13 Sun 28 Aug 2016
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