One man's art could be his demise
The young man took a few steps away from the wall to examine his work. It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but none of them ever were. Maybe the shading wasn't quite right, or one of the arms was bent at the wrong angle. It didn't matter; he was a perfectionist, which meant he was also his own worst critic, and even if he had eternity at his disposal, his art would never meet up to his own expectations.
For the last three of his twenty troubled years Gogh had been displaying his talent in and around this cold, hard city. The majority of it was in alleys and on old abandoned buildings, and a few of his earliest ones could still be found on highway overpasses. Some of what he considered his lesser works had even been featured in the local newspaper, albeit with negative reviews. Not because of the quality of them, but because of the nature of them.
Under the law, his murals and paintings were considered 'vandalism' and 'defacing public property'. He couldn't understand this. How could he be vandalizing or defacing something that was a public eyesore to begin with? The buildings should have been torn down long ago, and the alleys were filled with garbage and winos. If anything, his work helped to beautify the city. But the blind eyes of justice saw it differently, and Gogh was labeled an 'outlaw'.
'Gogh' wasn't his real name, and nobody knew who Gogh was. Gogh was the one who penned his name to the drawings, paintings, and murals that depicted life on the street as he knew it. It wasn't just the homeless and the drunks living in cardboard boxes that he portrayed, though. That much was in plain sight for anyone who cared to open at least one of their eyes. What he painted was the darker side, which society either didn't know about, or didn't want to know about.
Having been on the street since he was twelve, Gogh had seen his share of the darker side. He knew what it was like to not know where he'd be sleeping from one night to the next, or how he'd be able to put food in his stomach each day. But neither of those compared to the fear of the violence the streets had to offer after the sun went down.
Living without a roof over your head and nowhere to call home was like living in a jungle. In fact, it was worse than a jungle. A person out in the open by themself was preyed upon. Some were even beaten or stabbed to death just for their meager possessions. A blanket, a pair of shoes, or a half bottle of Mad Dog could be reason enough to be targeted. It was a veritable dog eat dog world, and sleep was practically nonexistent if you wanted to survive on the streets of the city.
It was this fear that Gogh tried to bring out in his murals. He depicted the barbarity and trepidation the homeless had to endure at the hands of each other. His works were extremely graphic and raw, but if that was what it took for people to open their other eye, well, so be it.
Unfortunately though, he still wasn't sure he was getting his message across. People were paying attention to his murals alright, but he didn't know if they were grasping the meaning behind them, or if they just liked his art. His style was definitely unique; his use of shadows with certain brush strokes made them appear almost three dimensional, as if they were coming right off the wall. It wasn't something he'd learned or perfected; it was simply a God given gift.
But it was that style that seemed to distract people from the point he was trying to get across. He didn't want them to just see the subjects in his paintings. He wanted them to be the subjects in the paintings. He wanted them to feel their emotion, to know their fear. There was a world of difference from looking at someone about to be savagely beaten to actually being the one about to be beaten.
Apparently, justice wasn't the only one that was blind. So were the people. But then again, what did they care? They had food in their refrigerators to eat and their nice cozy beds to sleep in. But most importantly they had locks on their doors to protect them from the creatures that prowled in the night.
~ ~ ~
Gogh shook his head and knelt down to open a fresh can of paint. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw something move at the end of the alley. He stood up and watched intently for a few moments, but the only thing he could see were a few bags of trash and a pile of leaves that was half covered with the remains of someone's dead mattress.
Probably just a rat, he thought. But just to be sure, he picked up a rock and threw it into the moldering heap.
Satisfied that he was alone, except for the unseen rat, Gogh once again examined his newest painting. It wasn't the shading and it wasn't the arm. Maybe the mouth? He checked his watch and saw that he had only two hours left before the sun would come up. With brush in hand, he went back to work, hoping this would be the one that would open both of their eyes.
~ ~ ~
The following morning, two women, themselves denizens of the street, happened to be in the neighborhood where Gogh had been working a few hours earlier. One pushed a shopping cart that overflowed with her worldly belongings, while the other followed aimlessly behind.
"That's a new one," said Leader.
"A new what?" asked Follower.
"A new 'Gogh'."
"What the hell is a 'Gogh'?"
"That's the name of the guy who paints those," Leader answered, pointing to the mural in the alley. Leaving her cart behind, she stepped into the dim corridor for a closer look. "C'mon."
Reluctantly, Follower trailed behind. "Looks like he left all his crap here," she said. A few opened cans of paint and brushes were scattered around the base of the wall.
"I guess he was in a hurry to leave."
"So how do you know it's one of his?" Follower asked. "I don't see a name on it."
"That is a little strange. Normally he signs them. But trust me, that's definitely one of his. Nobody else can paint like that."
"Who'd want to?" Follower said. She pulled a small flask from the pocket of her moth-eaten coat and took a long swig.
They stood there for a few moments while Leader admired the work. Follower shuffled her feet and looked around nervously. "Let's get outta here," she said. She finished her bottle and dropped it into one of the empty paint cans.
They started to leave, but after a few steps Leader suddenly stopped. She turned around and looked back at the mural. "Did you hear something?" she asked Follower.
"No. Why? Did you?"
Leader's eyes remained fixed on Gogh's painting. It was of a young man with his arms thrust out in front of him, as if warding off an attacker. The mouth was wide open, the face frozen with terror.
"I thought I heard somebody scre—"
"You thought you heard what?"
Leader glanced at the pile of trash at the end of the alley, then back at the painting.
"Nothing," she said. "Must’ve been the wind.”