I once knew a man named Luca whose paintings were the best I’d ever seen.
He was a fine enough fellow, his hair the thick red sort that you see puffed up from summer winds, even on the stillest and driest of winter’s nights. Running, driving, and biking were counted among the things he enjoyed the most, moving at great speeds from one thing to another. Was never the type to settle down for a book or bath.
But painting? Luca loved to paint.
He wasn’t the sort of fellow to use acrylics. Nor was he the sort to run across the paper with oil paint. Even watercolors seemed like a distant concept for him to grasp. It perplexed me as I offered more and more mediums as a solution to his myth of paint. When I eventually got an answer to the question of his ammunition for the canvas, I found the answer I received to be more intriguing than I’d expected.
“Gasoline, my friend. I use gasoline.”
It is an odd thing to paint with gasoline, at least I thought so at the time. I’d ask him why of all things he’d chosen gasoline to paint with; but he could never seem to provide a straight answer. And besides, the paintings answered for themselves.
If you could see the paintings, you would most certainly at first seem confused. You might think that it would be absent of color, and you would be right. The gasoline left no color. It left no shade and no depth to the portrait. All it left was a brisk outline, wet against the canvas background and stinking of that chemical scent.
Luca was meticulous with his works. His workshop was constantly filled with vapors and odors of magnitude; the sort that would make one feel woozy among them. Luca didn’t mind, he stood instead with his brushes in cans or kegs along the concrete floor and painted to his heart’s content. A swipe here, a swoosh there, all laid out in puddles on the canvas. And then he would briskly toss them from his workshop to the ground outside.
But regardless of where they lie, they remained beautiful.
The colorless paintings, with their outlines and swooshes and gaps between lines. Puddles and dank colors intermingling with one another rang clearer than life. Simple yet incredibly complex. Calm and fear intertwined on volatile pages that could erupt at any moment. Better than oil, water or acrylic in none of the ways that were seen, but instead in all of the ways that would matter.
Luca could never seem to love his paintings as I did. As the passersby on the street could. His mind didn’t seem to grasp the love, only to foster hatred for the works he’d created. Spite grew in his mind, day by day. Minute by minute as his brush strayed across the page in beautiful lines and shapes. One day something snapped.
Nowadays the gasoline scent has vanished, replaced with a sort of sterile ignorance of disinfectant and distant ash. The cans and vats now are filled with pigments and dyes. All things he purchased to further his efforts and increase his scope, to create something for which he could pride upon. But for all his attempts, he has yielded nothing.
Luca doesn’t go into the workshop much anymore. Instead, he runs, he bikes, he stands, and he breathes. Sometimes he lingers in the workshop with his paints and stares at the canvas in quiet desperation, his hands unable to function about the colors around him.
Luca used to paint with gasoline. But now he doesn’t paint at all.
Miles Eschmann is a junior level English major at SIUE. He prefers to spend his time existing, but sometimes chooses to pursue other endeavors. He is working to better himself as a writer and as a student and hopes to pursue his masters in the future.