C C Canning
Anton Faraday, Wildlife Painter
At the very edge of human vision, high above the arid savannah, the martial eagle soars for hours riding the thermal updrafts, stiff winged and barely moving, watching for signs of life and death below with eyes aligned in parallel that see perfectly what other creatures lack the facility to focus upon. And when it falls in a long flat glide, dropping a thousand metres out of the bright sky, fast and silent onto its victim's neck, the kill is like a sudden flash of blinding light; but when it looks up and looks around it is bemused by the proximity of things, its long vision now unsuited to the close examination of the corpse trapped in its talons. That is the look he captured in his long focus lens. He painted the eyes in solid ivory black washed with a thin film of raw umber. The reflected light from the bleached sky was a fleck of titanium white hatched with aurora yellow. After the kill there was always a moment of strange peace; a calm he had never understood but which seemed to frequently follow danger.
In the first week of June he'd been due to give an address on the importance of Stylistic Tagging to first year students in the Painting Department of his old alma mater, the Royal College of Art in Kensington. The invitation to speak was meant to be a compliment, but he'd started to regret accepting it. The fact that he was free to choose the topic hadn’t helped at all, for with every approaching hour he'd become more and more convinced that his thesis – that every painting should carry the artist’s personal marker somewhere within it – not only revealed the degree to which art was corrupted by commerce, but unsubtly confirmed the degree of his own corruption.
In previous years he'd have welcomed the chance to open students' eyes to the commercial realities they faced. He'd have been happy as Larry to expound at length on what he referred to cynically as 'the gallery trade', and to hell with the risk of damaging their tender artistic sensibilities. At the ripe old age of forty, however, he had to admit that Anthony John Faraday – Anton to his friends, such as they were, and ‘AJ’ to the art buying public ‑ was having a mid-career crisis which, not unusually, was characterised by a growing decline in motivation and self-belief. But whereas most such crises arise out of an accumulation of disappointments and under-achievement, his, believe it or not, had its source in success. He'd become trapped in a genre that richly rewarded him (the painting of Wildlife) and which, as a result, he felt incapable of escaping. Indispensable to this success were the stylistic markers, clear as the thumbprint on a John Dory, which identified a work as unmistakably his; but, now that he'd chosen to mount an argument in favour of such devices, he had to wonder whether his own markers hadn’t become the very traps that imprisoned him.
There was an irony in all this which was about to reveal itself in a way he could never have predicted.
He’d got up early on the appointed day to try and resolve this dilemma in his mind, practising his speech while fiddling about with an unfinished canvas that refused to dry. The tone of the speech, even in the confines of his own head, concerned him, laced as it was with hints of disenchantment. It was not a tone he wanted to reveal before students half his age: arrogant little arseholes filled with the confidence and ignorance of youth.
Despite an early start, and a determination to be positive, it had been an unproductive morning, so, when he heard the doorbell go at what was still an unusual hour for visitors, he willingly put down his paint brush and hurried down the short flight of stairs from his studio with the eagerness of someone half willing to be taken over by a much more compelling event.
He wasn’t to be disappointed.