Chapter 1. Imagined artists

Shisi saw colors

Shisi saw compositions of colors, a scarf, a blush, a window showing sky, a puddle’s reflection, an autumn gourd, a horse’s eye. She noted each magical composition in a small book with red covers. When she felt tired or discouraged, she read her red book and she remembered everything.

Gustaf painted walls

For Gustaf, walls were large projector screens, or windows to his soul. He didn’t have a happy past, and his present was consumed with making ends meet. He painted a grand palace on the front of a cheap hotel. He painted sailboats floating in a marina on the inside walls of a burned-out building. He painted clouds that hid the upper storeys of tenements and factories. On a plain brick building, he painted window frames and in each window he painted families doing things they loved.

Sheila doodled large

Sheila began her career as a doodler when she was a girl, focusing on margins of books, letters, and discarded receipts, but her doodles needed more space, so by her teenage years she was filling dairies and blank books, always with small figures surrounded by intricate patterns using fine-point technical pens, but these pages were too confining. She unrolled butcher paper down the hall of her home and filled roll after roll, never altering the scale of her doodles, only their expanse. All her money was for paper and pens, all her time was for doodling.

Joe imitated the masters

The work of the great masters was wonderful, and so was Joe’s. Maxfield Parrish, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Pollack. Joe was a copyist, but he added to what he found in others by focusing on the details, the narrowest scope possible in which he found a juxtaposition of line and color that was truly artistic.

Ali’s eyes had been opened

Ali had been made an artist without wanting to become one. He stumbled, he fell, and he hit his head on a rock. When he woke up, everything was miraculous. It was his purpose, after that, to help others see. He knew it, but it was a burden, like sainthood, that he had to bear. But how to show that a man is like a pomegranate blossom, how to show that a child is a like a feather? Too many unknowns, too many tragedies, too much caring for others.