In art school, I met harsh critiques. My work was girlish in idea and form. It dripped with a dopey innocence. The hokey landscapes that had won blue ribbons at home were scoffed out of the studio by fetish-choker-chain-wearing city kids. My bucolic sensibilities, suddenly “hotel art.” Many nights, I slunk out of the studio through plumes of cigarette smoke, paints tucked under my arm, to the faint snickering of my peers after splashing shades of lilac laggardly onto a canvas for hours.
My work only improved when I fell in love with a spellbinding boy in my studio who did portraiture. The way he painted the likeness of people was uncanny. He had a gift for really seeing people. Portrait boy was fond of mirrors during sex. “Put her in the work,” he’d say, as we looked into my warm reflection, carnal, and sex-blown. When he handed me an anthropological study about body fluids in great works of art, I realized his advice was literal.
It started with spit. Part of myself I wouldn’t miss. It fell from my mouth, frothy bubbles into my paints. I moved onto my hair. I would pull full strands as I worked at the easel. Fingernails: a painless sacrifice to the art Gods. And I think it succeeded. My investment in my work, (now literal) created a deeper connection, a type of tethering that allowed for more risk-taking.
I placed half my pinky finger in the finale piece at my senior show, preserved, painted. Whispers circling about my transformation from boring to a Bosch. Utter ecstasy, until an art dealer bought the piece for above the asking price, and carried it out the door. I howled and sobbed. I had forgotten I would have to part with it, parts of myself. Now tear-streaked and wounded, portrait boy found me in the crowd. He took my gloved hand to his lips and kissed my half-pinky, “you’re a real artist now,” he said, looking not exactly at me, but past me, to my reflection in the studio window.
Suzanne Richardson earned her M.F.A. in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the University of New Mexico. She currently lives in Utica, New York where she’s an Assistant Professor of English at Utica College. She’s currently a columnist writing “Three Things” at www.nocontactmag.com. More about Suzanne and her writing can be found here: