It began in an unusual way, how could it end otherwise?
I had an exhibition in Palermo, where I ended sleeping on a friend's sofa in the living room. It was uncomfortable, so encountering on the street a visitor to one of my previous exhibitions, I asked if he knows someone who rents rooms for brief periods.
"You are very lucky" he answered, becoming thoughtful, “See, I own 260 houses in the city, some in Mondello, near the sea, a castle in Bagheria... But most of these places are rented, others would have to be repaired, in others one would have to hook up electricity ... There is one small apartment available, however, and it is situated in an incredible place. It is..."
"How much does it cost?" I cut him short, thinking that the long list of properties which he apparently owns must be due to a lack of some bolt in his head.
The man continued his bizarre speech undisturbed: "I would never rent it. It is my favorite place, I come for meditation there every night.… But if you paint the view that opens from there, I would let you have it for the duration of your entire stay in the city for free. I must warn you in advance that it won't be an easy task... "
This remark made me curious, I wanted to see the view which was so difficult to depict in his opinion.
The place was situated on the top floor of the highest building in Palermo which, indeed, belonged to my acquaintance. In a sense it was a "non-place". The “room” was a metal booth painted white, similar to captain's cabin on the ship; half of the wall was made of windows that ran along the entire facade. Inside there was everything one needed, but it was very Spartan: a bed, a desk, a stove, but clearly no one was living there. On the enormous terrace stood a rocking chair turned towards the sea.”For meditation," I guessed.
There were no shades on the windows: "No choices: one has to wake up with the first rays of the sun”, I thought. "If there is a perfect place to paint landscapes, it's this one. What makes him think it is so difficult? Truly, he must be totally nuts." I concluded, accepting the enigmatic challenge.
The man placed the keys on the table with a sly smile, and murmured, "I am very curious what you will come up with... Well, good luck, then. "
Very soon I understood what my new acquaintance was referring to. It was a "special" place because it was literally in the clouds, in the midst of the stars, suspended between the sun and the moon. The minimalist furniture emphasized one's sensation of floating in the air.
In front lay the bay of Palermo, at night huge ships decorated with lights departed for world cruises, it seemed that their outlines were traced by colored blinking stars, they were floating in the darkness. Even my terrace seemed a deck of a traveling ship.
The city was celebrating Easter in grandeur: somewhere far below, there were flowering and withering never ending explosions of fireworks. While everyone gathered with their families around dinner tables, I was left face to face with Heaven.
It was stunning: above, around, under me, everywhere, there was nothing but unobstructed, continuously changing sky.
Already the first morning, waking together with the sun, I realized that I will not paint either watercolors or oils ever again. I was at a point of no return, all my understanding of art and life was swept away by the view which opened from that terrace floating in the clouds...
Previously I lived as if enchanted by a constantly changing kaleidoscope of images, contained in something that is generally referred to as an "inner world"; now I discovered that there is the same fascinating whirlpool of colors and shapes outside, and I was in the midst of it. It was the very same thing, it felt and looked like “an inner world”, but it was boundless, eternal, unmeasurable, it prostrated all around me in every direction, it was for anyone who wanted to see it and it was...nobody's.
Everyone's and no one's Sky...
Before living among clouds I used to believe that sky was inside, I felt that it filled me, I knew: I contained it... As for the outside world, it interested me only when I could spot reflections of my boundless private Heaven. I perceived the external world as something fragmented, it seemed somewhat unreal, while inside me there was a concrete, tangible celestial reality…how could I detach myself from that breathtaking inner view?
By leaving me to live alone among the clouds, the man who tiptoed away quietly destroyed all my illusions.
“How will I live now? “I wondered, “What will I do? To go on painting is an absurdity! Why stop fleeting moments (whose fantasies are they?)? What sense is there to “translate” reality of the sky, that continuously moving wild fantasy (whose is it?), into some art form? What sense is there to go against mutability of nature?”
To make Art? It would be like saying to the world: "Do not breathe! Do not move! I want to sketch you!". But beauty is a continuous change of movements, thoughts, moods, states of mind that express themselves in different ways… why freeze them? Why do we desire to possess rather than to get lost inside the limitless unknown in search of meaning? And when found, why do we cling to its sense instead of following its changes, observing its breathing, why do we say “stop”, what idiocy it is to paint pictures...
But the man who destroyed my illusions wanted a picture of the view in return, say, a watercolor or an oil painting... And what about something more modern, more experimental, won't he be content? But of course he would be content; he just wanted a picture of the view.” I thought with a smile, and so I called him: “I would like to show you Palermo.”
“YOU -to ME?”
“Why not? Let's go for a walk together, it is not that far, actually.”
“Well, if you wish. That's strange, however.”
There was a mountain near his skyscraper. It was covered with wild vegetation; one could not even pass through it. But there was a secret passage which I knew of, it led to the top, to a very beautiful natural terrace. It was a place where lovers would do stargazing. I have been there a few years before, but then the poisonous beauty of the view did not have such a devastating effect upon me as now, because I perceived it as merely as a splendid background, my attention then was absorbed by my companion.
That's where I brought my "art collector".
Though native to Palermo, the owner of many buildings would have no reason to come there, he did not even suspect that this place existed. From there opened exactly the same view as from his terrace, only there was no door that could be locked.
I invited him to sit next to me on the stone above the ravine. To be sure that he got good sense of my "picture “I began to exalt its details: "look at these beautiful ships, they seem painted, and the moon, ah, the moon floating through the clouds at our feet!”
I was conscientiously making him notice all the details of the stunning view in front of us, yet he did not seem happy at all. Indeed, he was rather nervous. He jumped up, and began to walk up and down the lawn.
Then he exclaimed with reproach and pain, "You broke my illusions! I thought I had something unique, something precious and private that no one has! Nothing else really mattered: that view, the most beautiful view in the world, and it was mine! Why, oh why did you have to bring me here? "
Feeling empathy for his frustration, which was similar to mine, I stopped teasing him and replied honestly: "We had an agreement: apartment for my picture of the view. What is a picture if not a new vision of what we already know? Here it is- this is yours now…does it bother you that you cannot lock it? Why did you want a picture in the first place, if you had the real thing already? As for the rest, you also destroyed my illusions. I also believed I possessed something unique, it was my beautiful “very special” private sky locked behind the door of my soul. But after having lived among the clouds I know that my inner world is exactly the same as the one outside, which belongs to everybody else and to no one.”
But he was not listening to me; he was talking to himself, “What remains for me now?”
“To you remains the awareness that your key does not open an apartment with a unique view. To me remains the new, shocking understanding of reality. But it's not to be excluded that what is hurting both of us now is just another illusion.”
Sky! So whose are you? What are you about? Are you for real?