A Creative Challenge Ch. 27byPvidal©
When Greta phoned to say that she wanted to meet with us because she had a proposition she wanted us to consider, Amy invited her round to the studio rather than have both of us get dressed and go to her gallery.
"We don't know what it's about, Sam. It mightn't be worth the bother. Besides, she's the one who wants to sell us on whatever the idea is."
"True, but Greta's my agent. My interests are usually her interests, too, so she won't want to be wasting her time as well as mine. If she thinks it is a good idea, we should listen to what it is."
It occurred to me, uncharitably, that Amy might have had another motive for suggesting that Greta meet us in the studio.
"You're not thinking that Greta could be talked into being a replacement for Tracey, are you?"
"Can you imagine that, seriously? Have you ever known anyone straighter than Greta? She thinks we are a pair of crazy people who just happen to be good for her business, but she wouldn't have the nerve to even fantasize about BEING us."
We were still working on a large painting of Amy asleep after an orgasm when the buzzer told us that Greta had arrived. In the painting, most of the canvas was filled with Amy flopped back on a bed with her eyes closed and her legs open, a vibrator in one hand resting on her thigh, hair in sweaty strands stuck to her face, a gentle smile on her lips. The piece was very low key, with deep cool shadows as if the scene was lit only by moonlight. It had a quiet but confronting eroticism about it, and it was coming along well.
I thought Amy had actually gone to sleep, so I quietly picked up a pair of shorts from the corner of the room, intending to put them on to open the door. She didn't move from the pose, but she was not asleep and she saw what I was doing
"Don't get dressed, Sam. Let's see if Greta can deal with us in our work environment the way we deal with her in hers."
I could have argued that there was no comparison, the two situations being completely different, but if I didn't mind if Amy wanted to play a small power game with Greta, and had ideas of upsetting her normal controlled reserve, so I did as she asked and flung open the door, standing in front of Greta without a stitch of clothing on. Greta said a breezy "Hi Sam", and walked straight past me without looking at anything but my face, then said "Hi Amy" and flopped onto the couch behind the easel.
"Can I watch? Whatever it was you two were up to?"
"Love fifteen. Your serve, Amy," I said, amused by the very cool way Greta had dealt with Amy's failed attempt to shock her.
"You're not playing the game, Greta. You're supposed to be having the vapours by now," said Amy, equally amused and definitely impressed by Greta's sangfroid.
"What, you think I couldn't guess you two would try to embarrass me? It occurred to me that when I walked in you two might even be making the beast with two backs, as Shakespeare would say, so I'm a bit disappointed if anything."
"That could be arranged," said Amy. "If that's what you'd really like."
"Not necessary," said Greta holding her hand up, palm out. "This is about business not pleasure, so some other time, thank you. Really, Amy, did you think I'm THAT strait-laced? I've already seen all there is to see of you on opening night, and I'm not likely to be intimidated by that." She waved her hand vaguely in the direction of my pelvis as she said the word 'that'.
"Let's get down to business, then," I said, a little peeved. "Seeing as how you didn't come to stroke my ego."
"On the contrary, my dear bohemian protégé," said Greta. "There is a certain wealthy businessman of my acquaintance who thinks that you are the most exciting artist he has probably ever seen. He wants to give you a commission. That's why I'm here."
"What does he want?" I asked.
"Ten pictures, all the same size, all on a similar theme."
"Ten!" said Amy, suddenly sitting up and paying attention. "What is he expecting to pay for them? I suppose he wants a bulk discount."
"No, he'll pay a very hefty premium. About double what I would put on them in the gallery." "Wow. When does he want them?"
"Hold on," I said. "I haven't agreed to do them yet."
"Sam, you're going to create ten saleable pictures in the next month or two, anyway. What's wrong with doing them for this guy at twice the price if he's got more dough than sense?"
"What do you mean, more dough than sense? Buying my stuff might turn out to be a very shrewd investment."
"That's what I've been telling my clients, Amy. I think Sam is right. They'll be worth a lot more one day. Nevertheless, it's still twice what I can otherwise get for them right now."
"So what's the catch, Greta?" I said.
"Why would there be a catch?"
"Ten at once. Twice the price. There's got to be a catch."
"We-ell, it might not be a catch at all. It depends how you feel about it."
"The client wants the pictures to be all of Amy, but with a man. I know you've never done anything like that before, but I'd like you to think about it, that's all I'm asking."
"He wants pictures of me fucking?"
"If you want to put it that bluntly, yes, probably. But not necessarily. He wants erotic, but definitely hetero-erotic, not auto or lesbo, which is all I could show him."
Amy looked at me. Greta didn't know about the drawings we left behind in Jamaica, and we hadn't spoken about that session to each other since then. I knew that any discussion of this commission would open up that experience again, but I figured it had to happen sooner or later.
"It wouldn't actually be the first time Amy's modelled with another man," I said, "but I'm not sure if we are ready to do that again."
Greta's eyebrows raised in surprise when she heard what I said, but she saw the glances that had occurred between Amy and me and she didn't press for more details, guessing that this was a sensitive issue.
"Don't dismiss the idea completely, Sam. Let's think about it first," said Amy. "We've never said we wouldn't do that again, and this is a big commission."
"No we didn't. And yes it is. But neither of us have been doing any of this just for the money."
"Not just for the money, no. But why knock it back? It's a good excuse to lift your work to a different level. We have to grow, we can't just keep doing the same thing over and over."
"Is that what it feels like to you these days? Just more of the same? To me, it feels like we've come an awful long way in a very short time. This is another huge leap for both of us. It is for me, anyway."
"Yes, it is. But that's why it should be a lot of fun to do."
It is always hard to argue with Amy's enthusiasm for the new, but I was not yet convinced. Greta's business brain tried to put a more rational spin on the idea.
"Sam, a commission can often be very beneficial to an artist, and I don't mean because it might be very lucrative. When you are just self-motivated in what you do, it's easy to get stale and to get into a rut. A commission brings a different kind of discipline to your work. It introduces a new element, some outside condition that you might not have chosen for yourself, and accepting that can sometimes inspire and bring out new qualities in an artist. It isn't just about money."
It sounded a bit like a prepared speech and it probably was, but it was nevertheless a persuasive argument. They were both ganging up on me, but maybe they were both right for different reasons. I knew it was risky, but in the back of my head were Greta's other words to me, 'let her go, if she comes back...' and my own resolution to myself some time ago to choose the 'path less trod', and take more risks with this wonderful young woman.
"OK," I said. "Let's do it."
"We don't have a model," said Amy.
"We'll put an ad in the paper," I said. "Wanted. Fit young man to bonk gorgeous nude model at least ten times. Twenty-five bucks an hour. Free condoms."
Amy looked hurt. "Don't, Sam. That's not fair."
"Sorry. I agree, that was mean. Still, if we are going to do this, we don't have a model, and it can't be just anyone."
"I know one person who would do it."
Sometimes I surprise myself by how dense I am. I looked at Amy blankly. Was she talking about her old boyfriend, whose forgettable name now escaped me? Or the guy she had her 'affair' with that led to the break-up? Greta was looking equally blank, but Amy wasn't expecting her to know who she was talking about. Amy was looking at me like I must know who she meant, but I was still clueless. For a moment, I thought she was about to tell me, but she stopped herself and turned to Greta instead.
"What business is this client in? The one who wants ten of Sam's pictures?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, it occurs to me that it's an odd thing to want. Ten pictures all the same size. What is he going to do with them?"
"I believe he wants them as part of the décor in his new business."
"He calls it a 'gentleman's refuge'."
"Does that mean it's a strip club or a brothel?" asked Amy, never one to beat around the bush.
"I think he would say neither, but it's probably a bit of both," admitted Greta. "I haven't seen it, because it's still being built. It won't be open for a couple of months, but he says it's a really classy place, which is why he wants the best art he can get for the decor."
"He doesn't want Art," said Amy, "he wants up-market porn. He wants us to help his clients get their rocks off and get out of the place quick. I'm right, aren't I? Tell him to go fuck himself. We're not doing it."
Amy spoke with great finality. Her enthusiasm for the project, so strong only moments before, had dissipated completely. She had been sitting on her hands on the dais, and now she stood up and walked out of the room. Greta was somewhat taken aback by this sudden reversal of the plan. She looked at me, pleadingly.
"Sam, talk to her, tell her not to be so hasty..."
"Forget it, Greta. Amy's right. We're not doing it. I'm sorry you won't get your cut of the deal, but it's no deal."
Amy came back into the studio with a bottle of champagne and three flutes. She put the glasses on the dais, expertly popped the cork on the bottle, bent down and poured three glasses of bubbly wine. As I let my eyes roam for the millionth time over her delightfully bare ass, I suddenly realised who she was suggesting could be a potential male model. Amy handed us each one of the glasses, and raised her own in salute.
"To life! Have a drink, Greta. Don't go away pissed off at us."
"I don't get it, Amy," said Greta.
"Sam does. He can probably explain it better than I can."
"It's a question of integrity, Greta. It might not look like it to some people, but we are serious about what we do. We want the art that we create to be good art. Yes, it's erotic, but it's still art. It might seem like a pointless distinction to you, but Amy and I have spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between 'Art' and 'Porn'. Superficially, they can look a lot alike, but the difference for us is in our intention, our motive, our reason for doing it. I like it that a lot of people like what we do. I like it that they are willing to pay for it, because that is a good test of something's value to someone, but that doesn't mean we'll do anything just for the money. We've been exploring the boundaries and blurring the borders between what is art and what is porn, and we'll keep doing that, but if we do these ten pictures for your client, then we are doing them for exactly the wrong reason."
"But he could buy any other pictures of yours from the gallery and put them up in his club if he wanted to," Greta argued.
"Yes, he can. But then we wouldn't have done them for that purpose, just so that he could do that. We would have done them for ourselves," I said. "That's the difference."
"If we do these ten pictures as a commission for this client, then we're in the porn business," said Amy. "And so are you."
Greta sat looking at her champagne glass thoughtfully , not sure what to say next. Amy, as usual, managed to find the right thing to say to change the mood in the place.
"Are you going to drink that, or would you rather get naked and join me and Sam in a game of Hide The Sausage?"
I had just taken a mouthful of champagne, which although it was quite good quality bubbly, surprised me by hurting more than I expected when I involuntarily blew it out of my nose. I discovered that alcohol and carbon dioxide bubbles can really sting the sinuses. Amy then delivered the coup de grace to Greta's ambition to have us accept her client's commission.
"By the way, Greta, when you face the jury next month or whenever it is, and your lawyer tries to argue that you are not guilty of porn peddling because what we do is Art, how would you have explained away this commission if we had agreed to do it?
"I think I need some more of that champagne, please," said Greta, who had suddenly turned a whiter shade of pale.