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The search for the lesser-spotted Bouguereau
Ornothology and the arts
by Leon Arduous

Part 4 - why

Escaping the airport was a nightmare!
Six hours later we were installed in the Seven Stories Hacienda under a creaking, wobbling fan that threatened decapitation any instant. The boy was asleep and seemed destined to remain so for a long time. I removed the business card from my pocket and decided to do a little reconnaissance without the boy.

In the front of the hotel I showed the card to five cab drivers who seemed to arrive the instant I stepped onto the street. There was no haggling as only one would consent to drive me to that address and he only with the greatest reluctance. 'I need the pesos,' he explained.
'Alphonse Gomes' the card said,' breeder of rare birds, 476 Emira, Mexico City,' I read aloud as I settled back on to a lumpy, sawing rear seat and was determined to enjoy the ride.

But my mind wandered. Why was it so important to find this rare bird, this spotted Bouguerau? Redeemption was why. I could feel the stares even now. I know what you are all thinking. People are looking back on my painting career and drawing the obvious conclusion. I was on the take, and deliberately painting rubbish.
Not a single person could paint that poorly in college. Not a single person could be so lacking in skill.

Naturally, it was tough for me to keep my talent hidden. In drawing classes my hand would deftly want to draw the right line before my conscious mind could intervene.
Thus the 'spastic squiggle' ... my ability to let the charcoal to slide around haphazardly from what appeared originally a sure and certain direction. Few, if any, of my fellow students were aware of what was going on. I would walk back to the dorm, laughing on the inside as their taunts surrounded me. Sloppy, messy, untalented. To me every word was money in the bank. If they only knew I was already signed up to a cutting-edge galley where big bucks were just waiting to be made.
Sometimes even the gallery curator would be startled by the audacity of my plans. 'Painting with toothbrushes, rubber balloons, bodily fluids? Are you sure people will find that believable?'
'Relax,' I would tell him, 'with me in the gallery folk will believe anything'. Secretly I would practice with my pencil and paper drawing half a decent shape before destroying it by taking the pencil away at some incomprehensible angle or painting a beautiful landscape then spiralling the paint out of control to produce some uncomprehensible mess.
Damn!
Was I content with perfection? No way. I'd just keep trying until I got it all wrong.

By the time I graduated, every time I picked up a brush or pencil I could confuse any pleasing shape or design entirely. I also learnt to screw up my eyes in agonized and concentrated genius every time I lifted a brush. My commitment and hard work was paying off. At the end I had the whole art department convinced I was perhaps the most pathetic painter the department had ever seen. They were a traditional lot back then, innocent of the ways of the real world - the world of cheating.
"Ya, spasto,' my fellow students would yell, happily punching me about the head and neck, and giving me an affectionate kneeing in the knackers. My hand would snake down to my pocket, where the gallery's check lay folded. Of course I could have fought back, flooring them all with a single punch, and the odd superb karate kick. But that would have revealed my superb eye to hand co-ordination to the world and jepoardized my budding career.

Yet the true tragedy to any double life is that it must be maintained. I knew I was living a lie but I knew I must continue the subterfuge, at least for the sake of my gullible, buying public.
But I couldn't help it. I would lock my self away in the attic and draw exquisite busts. I would paint Ingres like nudes and Watteau gardens and landscapes. I would do all this while my wife and children were asleep. I would study nature while on outings with other artists and students and secretly in my mind construct them as beautiful paintings while mouthing their uselessness to the acolytes in my wake.
Worst of all I had to wear clothes of uncomfortable and outrageous design, sometimes going half-naked in cold weather, and all just to satisfy a fawning public. I won't mention the headwear.

Maybe there are some people who really aren't any good at art. But we all know now most of those whose work looks hopeless are simply in the pay of contemporary galleys and museums like the Brooklyn and too fearful to upset to paymaster.

For me though it's nearly over now and my one aim in life to find something humanity will appreciate ... not a painting, but a bird - the long lost Spotted Bouguerau. Maybe I can offer mankind something truly naturally beautiful to remember me by.

The cab jolted to a stop and my daydreaming ceased in similar manner. The driver showed a gummy smile and pointed to a four room adobe house with a bent TV antenna and a dusty yard. There was not a tree in sight. A sign on the door read Gomes and Daughter, Marriage counselling and Dealers in rare birds.

It was here I first met Samaria Gomes who changed my life and knew more about nineteenth century French birdlife then anyone dead or alive.

NEXT ... a strange discovery in the market for used cockfighters.