Giving Ground

Until two weeks ago, Glenn has never run out of stuff to paint, fit together, construct, deconstruct and create. Two weeks, three days and thirty five minutes ago…to be precise.

And he can be that precise.

He can almost remember an audible “click” that coincided with the slamming of his studio door. He definitely remembers sitting there looking at the closed door and being absolutely certain Ruthie would be back with her usual half-assed apologies.

She never came back. She didn’t call or email.

She took one bag with her and left everything else behind. None of their friends have heard anything; or if they have, they’re not telling Glenn. He is still stunned. They are joined on so many levels that it seems impossible for her to be gone. But he sure as hell isn’t going after her. He’s got an exhibition coming up and has only finished that one twisted thing with the rags attached (and he’s got his doubts about that one).

He has to get to work.

He’s still up at first light. There’s a drop cloth spread over in the corner for Rexxie to poop on. Another thing he counted on Ruthie to do: walk the damned dog. He tried walking Rexxie himself at first and thought that’s why he was hitting this impossible dry streak. At first he resented the dog needing to walk every morning but then it became this idyllic stroll with another city to discover and warm bread to buy and a hundred thousand things for Rexxie to sniff. Glenn would come back to the studio, wind-ruffled and happy only to face an entirely new state of being: blankness.

Tundra. Frozen, endless and white.

No, not even that. A tundra would have something. This is nothing. Glenn doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting here staring down the blank white.

He doesn’t pace anymore.

Rexxie’s gone; one of the last few people who stop in to check on how Glenn’s doing took the dog last week. Someone left food. Someone else brought several bottles of wine. The wine’s gone. The food will rot.

In his dreams there is white.

It spreads out from the panel to take over all known space. It coats the insides of his eyeballs. It rams itself down his throat and his every interior wet, hidden place shines in sterile whiteness. He wakes, gasping, and is surprised to find paintbrushes gripped in his sweaty hands. Sometimes it’s still dark. He gets up anyway, pisses and then parks in front of the panel again.

There’s a day, late in May, with the exhibition only five months off, when he’s hit with a stray bit of inspiration. Working feverishly, Glenn saws the massive panel into about three dozen smaller panels of different sizes and shapes. As the little hack saw bites into the first clean edge of gessoed Masonite, Glenn winces. Is this really such a good idea? He sets his jaw and keeps sawing.

What else is he going to do; sit here some more and stare?

Markie and El come over with more wine and food to find Glenn surrounded by some several dozen ragged edged panels. He doesn’t even glance up when they let themselves in but that’s nothing new. The only people left in Glenn’s life are the ones who’ve been there from the beginning, the ones who know exactly what they’re dealing with. The good time, Tina blowing, Makers Mark swillers are long gone. And still not one word from Ruthie. She’s no longer on the planet. And the planet left behind stretches out around Glenn in concentric waves of white.

“Hey, Kimosabe, want some coffee?” El unpacks the food while Markie gathers trash and dirty clothes.

“Dude, what’s the deal?” Markie nudges one of the little panels with a foot as he passes with his arms loaded with clothes.

Glenn lunges at him and down they go.

Markie’s so surprised that it takes him a couple of minutes to defend himself. The flurry of punches is intentional and aimed. In a frantic effort to get away, Markie tumbles into a line of the new panels, scrambling to get to his feet and smearing blood on several of the panels.

“Can it, you fuck head!!” El’s screaming as she upends a large pot of icy cold water over both their heads. Markie makes his escape and El blocks Glenn from going after him which he’s obviously intent on doing. She widens her stance and glares down at him.

“You ok, baby?” She doesn’t look away from Glenn.

“Huh? Uh, yeah, yeah, I guess so.” Markie looks down his front to see. Yeah, he’s ok, but they’re both through with this crap and out they go. Markie takes the wine and they leave the coffee and food.

It’s another night.

Light floods in from the story high windows that line the loft and here’s Glenn, now sitting on the floor. He’s rocking with paintbrushes in both fists, crooning without words. The bloodied panels have been moved to the center of the phalanx, but somehow they’re as white and blank as their brothers. Nothing. The curves and bolts and connections with inversions, leaps, sudden switchbacks, tumbled agreements, subtexts and yawning metaphors have all fallen silent. The blood should have helped.

Now Glenn is alone.

He supposes that Markie and El have spread the word that he’s gone around the bend. It’s kind of a relief. More than once, he’s simply tipped over and fallen asleep surrounded by his panels, waking with drool sticking to the floor and the side of his face. There’s not much left to eat. Wine would be good. Going out to get something to eat or drink is about as accessible as anything on those blank, accusatory panels.

They’ve gotten mean.

Before, they were neutral. He’s been prostrating himself before an altar of indifference and aching at being ignored. After a lifetime of worship and observance his god has cast him out of the garden. At first he almost welcomes the vitriol; it’s better than the silence. Like a martyr of old he strips himself and offers his unprotected self to the furies. Each panel regards him with contempt, finally speaking up.

“Look at him, would you?”

“He can’t believe this will work.”

“You know how they are; it’s amazing anything gets created here.”

“What if we just told him: eat something. Get some sleep. Take a shower…”

“Go for a walk!”

“Jerk off!”

“Have some ice cream and read for the afternoon.”

“Go over to the coffee shop.”

“Talk to someone!”

“He won’t do it. Even shouting it in his face, he won’t believe that’s the answer.”

“So, what? We leave him like this?”

“We could let him starve to death.”


“Get up, fool! Go take a shower. You stink.”

“Look at him. Deaf and stupid.”

“Are they all like this?”

“Most of them.”

“Who started this crap about suffering being the basis for creativity?”

“Who do you think?”

“No! Why?”

“I keep telling you, He’s a vindictive fuck.”

“What if they knew?”

“Good question; I’m not sure.”

“One thing’s for certain, we wouldn’t get to have this kind of fun nearly as often!”

“I’d be willing to pass.”

“Yeah, poor bastard. This isn’t even that much fun.”

“Right? Get up, idiot!”

“There’s nothing to eat in this place.”

“What a mess.”

“Where’s the woman?”

“Let’s get her back here.”

“Screw that. If the stick isn’t working giving him the carrot won’t help anything.”

“Why’d she leave anyway?”

“No sex.”


“For nearly a year!”

“That couldn’t have been the only reason.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“If he needs the woman to be able to paint he’s not worth the effort.”

“Oh come on; don’t be like that.”

“Lots of them keep their lovers and still make brilliant art.”

“Lots of them lose their lovers, too, and are still brilliant.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as brilliant.”

“You’re impossible.”

“Yeah, well look at this blood he got all over me!”

“Can we agree on what to do here? I’m getting tired of kicking this moron.”

“I think he’s getting off on it.”

“Some do.”

“Ease up a little; let’s see what he does.”

“Wait. I have an idea.”

In the dream (it is a dream, right?), Glenn’s body is stretched out in all directions; flattened and being coated with gesso. Surprisingly, it hurts! Then his face is distorting, stretching out and here comes the gesso. He can’t close his mouth, his eyes and the scream he heaves out into the empty studio comes to his lengthening ears as a furious gurgle. Wildly waggling his eyes in every direction, he sees the final horror: the hack saw held in his own right hand. His left hand firmly smashes down into the middle of his flat, white face as the first bite is ripped into his white ribs.

Dust rises where blood should be spattering.

Dry breakage instead of ripping flesh. Flat hunks of Glenn separate and he’s horrifyingly aware of every break. There goes part of a leg, his flattened out foot carved into two pieces. The hack saw doesn’t care. It heaves back and forth right across his unprotected throat, through his groin and his arm falls to the floor. He hears it. He feels all of it. How can he not be dead by now? Here he is, gathered up and taken out to the strip of ground by the chain link fence and cast around like bird feed. The night is never dark here as his corners and edges sink a little into the dirt and here comes the blankness again.

Except. Wait.

Curls of choppy color and line appear along his edges. Canted along the fence, the magic is happening on each panel. Scallops of line enclose color and move further toward the interior of each panel. Faces appear. El looking homicidal. That homeless guy’s face, the one who always asks for quarters. Parents and old lovers and friends who don’t speak to him anymore. Faces he doesn’t recognize but knows just the same. Ruthie’s face. Ruthie’s face with the fury, frustration and resignation drained away. Lines twine out to reach for her, colors muscle the lines and Glenn knows she won’t be back and the pattern opens to let go.

Places appear.

His first crummy apartment. Alleys he’s jerked off in. Bedrooms he’s wept in. Pews he’s cursed in. Streets that led nowhere. Doorways and curbsides and low stone walls and broken gates and weed-choked vacant lots and kitchen counters and gleaming conference rooms and shrouded hallways and small, promising plots of new flowers. The gallery where his exhibition will appear in three weeks, all white walls waiting.

I attended the opening of Glenn Markindal’s new exhibit at the Drake last night and our readers will know this reporter has always had doubts about Markindal’s work, finding it a little precious, a little contrived. Every so often, however, an artist will make a leap that surprises everyone; certainly I’m surprised that Markindal has made that leap. His mastery of line and color has been impressive from his first show, but something was always missing. An animating spark here has blazed into a defining life force that confounds, delights and bewilders.

The pounding, joyous heart of the exhibit is the enormous, three dimensional collage piece entitled “Giving Ground”. Its layered panels of Masonite join into a complex, massive dance of life and death and doubt and wonder and loss and deep fertile ground that gives some answers and withholds many others.

Do not miss this important exhibit. It will only be up for a month.”

Manley Livingston

Art Critic for the Miami Blade

(Editor’s Note: At the time of posting, the artist was not available for comment)

“Giving Ground” was originally published in Black Wire Literary Magazine, Issue 1 (January 2014).
Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash


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