It is said that the Artist’s gallery is an endless labyrinth of halls and floors, replete with original fine art. Now, I don’t mean to hyperbolize here. I believe that by this myth, its proponents postulate that His exhibit genuinely stretches into infinitude. That if one were to walk its corridors to espy every piece, it would be a task of vain perpetuity.
Some say it is a great privilege to be under the Artist’s tutelage. I know of no one who has actually met this Artist or if he even is real, so it was to my surprise one day to be invited for a visit to the famed gallery. But by no ordinary happenstance did I receive my suppliant. At my door stood a colorfully dressed, life-size pantin. To be greeted in this way is alarming. Such a fellow ought to be restricted to a shelf in the toy corner of a general store or among a grade schooler’s playthings, not at one’s stoop soliciting summons.
Possessing spirited gestures and a rich voice, the delightful pantin delivered an obsequious plea, stating that my time had come, and I was to be an honored guest at his sovereign’s estate. The pantin bowed low before signaling over to a paper mâché carriage drawn by horses of die-cast metal and driven by an exquisite bisque doll. Finally, the pantin assured me it would stay at my home to look after my affairs and reconvene with me upon my return. Just as I clambered into the coach to find my seat, the driver’s voice issued advice that I had better get comfortable for a long trip.
The carriage came to a stop the moment I awoke. I rose to inspect the scene, wishing to see a marvelous manor just beyond the paper-framed window at my side. Not that. The ride had brought us to the edge of a lake. I opened the door to a fog that hung in the air. I climbed out.
The soft ground gave way to my feet. I circled to the front to see my coachman peering out beyond the fog—a thick shroud that began at shore and blanketed the lake ahead. The world around was quiet and mist. Nothing stirred, save for the coachman, who remained in a concentrated gaze, tilting forward slightly so. I could not help but wonder what he would expect to see out there. What more than a lake? My eyes strained to discern anything but the opaque curtain.
I was then drawn out of my thoughts by a strong gale that started in, spilling a heavier haze around us. This wind blew along the shoreline and came in such an alarming rush that it moved the lake water parallel to its edge. I hastened to bury my face away from the biting cold.
Billowing water, gusts of wind and more fog, all were a growing surge crowning to an apogee of storm. I gripped myself as I met the ground. Through the booming wind, I could hear horses crying and a creaking carriage. But still, the storm grew until all sound became lost in the noise.
The world around was a turgid swell right before the burst. There is no up or down when caught up in this state, when the merciless sensations are beating down. There is no differentiation. And when it did burst, it did so suddenly. Then all was still, and I learned to feel again.
I found myself back in that moment just before the peak of the turbulent squall, curled up on wet turf. I watched as the last of the wind left the fog in great swirls, rolling back to reveal a bridge over a flowing river where the lake had once been. Presently, I had never heard of a wind that can transfigure water and landscape. But there is a time for everything, I suppose. And if there was a time for a new vista to appear, it would undoubtedly be after an eruption of force such as that one.
Next came warm sunlight to replace the retreating mist. I struggled to my feet in a sop. When I let my focus turn to the pass ahead, that was the moment the Elysian spectacle met my eyes. I saw what hid beyond the veil—the Artist’s estate, reaching out beyond all horizon.
I was allowed but a moment to be spellbound by this wonder before my hand felt a squeeze, then a tug to advance. By his grip, the coachman led me through the colonnade, past the well-groomed landscape, and to the final portico that met the great doors. We opened to a hall, and moved so quickly through, that before I could note any detail in the makeup of the architecture and decorum, we were already up the cascading banister and into the arching entry to the gallery.
If I could say anything at all from what I gathered, the home felt lovelier than anything I have ever seen pictured, yet somehow, something about it managed a modesty and comfort that one might covet in other luxurious settings. I was in it now, rapt by this thing that eluded the senses of man, only having been intuited to exist by some, and treated as an incertitude by most. I stood at the edge of the gallery in this enchanted estate and could no longer deny its existence.
I had a view of the gallery’s main corridor, which was perfectly straight and stretching as far as the eye could see. The corridor shrunk by way of perception. This happened in the usual way, as things do, appearing small when viewed from afar. But the corridor became so gradually smaller and thus surpassing the bounds of my perception, that the breadth of it—with all its branching halls and staircases, its canvases and fine details of decor—disappeared into a single miniscule point.
You might think that being in a place like this produces a feeling of smallness or being lost. No, ever since I laid eyes on the estate, it was all enchanting, with nostalgia and novelty at the same time. Think of a warm feeling likened to returning to the home of one’s youth, like seeing it again with fresh eyes. I thought I might want to wander these grounds for all of eternity.
However, this was not the most unusual feeling about being here. It was a feeling beyond words—perfect and intense, fearsome and pure. It was like I was being utterly drowned in wholeness. The source was obvious. For the gallery did not begin with this corridor, but with a vestibule—a small room furnished on one side by a table with two chairs. In the corner of my eye, stationed in waiting, sat the Artist. This was the origin that radiated all life.
I stood frozen, staring at the corridor’s center, an infinite speck at the edge of my view. I dared not look directly at him in fear that the measure of what I felt would only grow. I let myself exhale, and the intensity left with my breath. So did my worries. All that remained was a presence of peace that quenched all unrest.
The Artist stood to his feet and walked right up to me. He rested his hands on my shoulders and spoke to me, saying, “I’m glad you are feeling better, apprentice. You have shown much progress in this life,” my eyes connected with his, “and at the expense of tremendous toil. I’m very proud of you.”
“Thank you, sir, but I’m sorry. I...I don’t…” I pulled away to collect my thoughts.
Why do I feel this way? How could the Artist know me? Why did he call me his apprentice? Just as I reached for answers to these questions, I started to draw some meaning. But now another question pushed its way into my mind: How could I have forgotten?
The Artist cleared his throat. “I know it’s a lot for one day. No one really plans for these things to happen.” He turned to collect something from the table, “I’m sending you on another trip abroad before you can live here with me.” He reached out for my hand. There, he placed a set of brushes and a pallet knife tied up in a roll of leather. “Take these with you.” He reached for my other hand and gave me a case of colored paints separated in jars. “You will need them to paint memories.”
“Memories? Memories of what?” I shook my head. Not all the answers had come to me yet.
“Memories from the moments in your new life,” he said.
“What new life?” I asked.
“The life I’m about to give you,” he said.
Right. Memories, the brushes, the gallery paintings—it takes time for the answers to settle in. The reality of it doesn’t just come pouring in all at once.
The Artist motioned down the hall of his gallery. “Would you like to pick one this time?”
I took a moment to think about what comes next. “Yes. I think I’d like that.” I took the Artist by the arm and we walked together through the gallery.
“How about this one?” The artist motioned to one of his masterpieces. “Much different from your last assignment. Really nice family. Big, too. Lots of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins.” We walked further. “Or this one.” He gestured to another. “It’s been a while since you’ve last lived in the Caribbean.”
“No, I think I like this one.” I let go of the Artist’s arm to get a better look at the piece. The scene depicted a young couple at the beach with their daughter—an only child. “It looks sweet.” I slid my fingers down the frame as I rounded in front of the work, closing in for a better view. My eyes searched the parents’ faces as they watched their daughter splash in the shallows. “I think I could use the extra attention this time.”
“Very well. Are you ready then?” he asked.
I sighed and stood taller. “I am.”
He placed one arm at my side. “Remember, the journey will not be easy. An artist’s heart must be both soft and strong. I must wait here for my students. Most don’t find their way to me on their own, so I send for them. Just as I did for you.”
I took a good look around the estate one last time. “I do really hope to live here one day.” Then I turned again to the Artist. “How can I find the path?”
“Completely give yourself over to my teaching. Follow my ways and I will show you my artistry. I will send my servants to help guide you.” He hugged me. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to mastery, and only a few find it. I will see you again soon.”
I hugged him once more, turned towards the painting, wiped my eyes, and stepped in.
I awoke in my crib. A carriage and horses decorated the shelf. Next to me lay a bisque doll. And looking up at a homemade mobile, there hung a series of colorfully made paper pantins.