The Frame Maker

At one time or another, everyone will see my work. I bring clarity and vision to all the great artists. I chose to emphasize Turner’s Snowstorm by using a matte black to parallel the ship. Van Gogh’s cypress tree was truly front-and-center behind my dull, dark wood finish. If you need framing, I am the man to see.

“What does this mean to you?” I ask the customers.

           I am the unrecognized intellectual judging the ignorant.

Ninety percent of the time, they just like it. I want to throw them out on their asses, but my manager frowns on assaulting the clientele.

“Should I emphasize the ants or the egg?” I condescend.

“What does the Metamorphosis of Narcissus mean to you?” I scoff.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

          I am the corrupt looking away.

A gray-colored mat with a dull black frame will draw the viewer’s eye to the egg. A cream one with a glossy black frame will bring out the ants.

Alone with my tools and stock-piles of wood, I bring meaning to cheap reproductions. My own attempts at creating were miserable failures. Misshapen forms and overly defined lines plagued my sketches. Abandoned canvases littered my walls. Dried pastels had turned to dust long ago. I had no artistic ability of my own, but I did have a keen sense of things – color, contrast, repetition and composition.

Tattoos seemed to be the next logical step in my search for self-expression through art. There isn’t a more fantastic canvas than the human form. It’s sculpture; three dimensions with shadows and texture, pits and valleys.

I can still remember my first tattoo. The way the needle punched and bit my skin was bittersweet below the drumming buzz of the gun. The smell of my blood was euphoric as it was ripped from my veins, replaced with ink to create art. The vibrations fulminated through to my bones and into my spine.

            Inhale.

“It’s an expression of yourself.” Everyone told me.

          Exhale.

I found this saying to be particularly amusing as I was picking out my piece from the artist’s book. This wasn’t an overworked printing press. These were original concepts – true, original art that could never be reproduced in the same way.

For a week after, I purposely wore shirts with shorter sleeves so the bottom edge of my ink would catch everyone’s attention. I wanted them to ask about it.

Their eyes would wander towards the streaks peeking out of my sleeve and I’d stop what I was doing, expecting some engaging question about the meaning. Notice the stark contrast of thick black outlines cutting the pinkish hue of my skin. Admire the use of color to draw the eye through the whole piece in one fell swoop. Inspect the canvas and contour the silhouette of the frame.

Instead, all I got was:

“Did it hurt?”

           Prick yourself and tell me:

I shouldn’t have expected any more from them, especially my boss who quickly put an end to the brandishing of my self-expression. She said tattoos were unprofessional and that our customers might be offended. After weighing my options, it was only out of enjoyment for my work that I covered myself up. Staring at my contribution combined with theirs made my groveling worth the incoherent grunts and groans.

I started wearing long sleeves to work, but rolled up the sleeve on my right arm. That’s the side that gets dangerously close to the spinning blade.

I’m like a battered woman, making excuses.

           It’s cold in here.

My pride is covered.

           I fell down some stairs.

My covering is my pride.

           I ran into a doorknob.

The full sleeve covering my left arm became a blessing. My skin – my canvas – was covered and free to be created upon.

I filled my entire arm with tattoos. Next, I covered my legs and my back. I filled my chest up to the neck line of my collar. I lived, worked and breathed to cover the soft hue of my skin with bold blacks, blues, greens and reds. Thick outlines contoured abstract shapes. Confined cells were filled with careful gradients and accent colors, faux light shining down on figures and shapes.

Before long, I wasn’t a blank canvas.

Often, while at home, I would stand naked in front of the mirror searching for virgin skin. I was fixated as if staring at my reflection in a placid lake.

There, looking back at myself, I realized something. This work I had become wasn’t my doing. I was someone else’s art; walking, breathing art. The canvas was my contribution and my legacy.

I took a knife from the kitchen.

           Do what comes naturally.

The first incision was across my left collar bone. Next, I pulled the knife across the right. Using the tip of the blade, I traced the outlines of work running down my right side. Next, I traced my left. As if I was peeling an orange, I used my thumbs to pull my skin off my chest. Finally, I cut across my waist and held up the canvas to admire it.

There was no more definition or contour where the muscle had been. It was flat and stagnant. I used the canvas of one of my botched attempts at acrylic painting to mount my chest. I had hoped the mounting would bring back the contours my torso had come to call home, but it was a failure. The cuts around the edge were too rough and messy. Blood dripped from behind the skin staining the canvas.

This solution would not do. My masterpiece, my sacrifice deserved more.

I turned to my leg and squatted awkwardly to dislocate my hip and rotated my leg outwards as I slid the knife through my loin, across the ball of my joint. This is how you butcher a whole chicken properly.

           The form is in the execution, follow through.

I emptied the blood onto my failed attempt at oil painting, spreading it evenly with my fingers. Finally, I pinned my severed leg onto the canvas. It was perfect. Crimson behind my leg enhanced the reds in my tattoos and drew special attention to the meat hanging from my incisions.

           Rinse and repeat.

The night went on and I repeated the process with my other leg and right arm, but there was still a framed, botched acrylic left. The torso-sized canvas mocked my inability to remove skin from my back or separate it from my body. I toyed with the blade, holding it behind my neck, but quickly decided to save the integrity of the work rather than myself. My head and blank arm would have to protrude from the work. They were not worthy.

I stained the canvas with my blood, leaned against it and waited.

Blood pooled generously in the carpet and spotted the walls. I bowed my head before my creations and watched my reflection in the crimson glass as it slowly turned to stone.

___

The Frame Maker was published in Thirst for Fire on October 13, 2009.