Writing About Art

Entry by: scifisam

4th June 2015
Devine Judgment

On the drizzly hillside JP Devine swayed like a drunkard, shaking his head as if to try to dislodge a trapped insect. Through fractured vision and mind he contemplated his hands, red as a butcher’s.

“Never judge people from the outside, JP,” his mother’s voice said. “It’s like judging the size of an iceberg from what you can see and being surprised when you crash. Remember that you never know what’s going on deep down.”

JP wished that were still true for him.


One month earlier

Really JP preferred landscapes to portraits, and abstract art to both, but street portraiture was one of the few ways he could think of making decent money in London, where the prices still made his Clonakilty mind whirl. His portraits were good, too – the sitter’s friends always gasped at how well he’d managed to capture them without resorting to boring realism or offensive caricature. “How did you know he loves Amaretto?” they’d gasp. JP would shrug, barely able to remember painting the picture at all. But there it was, a man surrounded by video games and piles of washing, drinking an Amaretto while a ginger cat lay on a stack of paperwork. The word SLOTH crossed his mind for a moment.

He didn’t think about that again until a week later. This time the sitter was not so pleased with her portrait.

“Has Jasmine been talking to you?” She shouted angrily, then glanced around and reduced her voice to a growl. “You’d better tell me who put you up to this.” She leaned in so close to JP that the smell of Camel Ultras and ineffective cover-up chewing gum made him wince.

JP couldn’t see what the fuss was about. In the picture his sitter was passionately embracing a much younger dark-haired woman; a fire notice on the door and card slot by its side told you they were in a hotel room.

“Madam, nobody put me up to this but you. Now, don’t you worry, the sign does promise that you don’t need to pay if you’re not-“

The woman grabbed the picture. “No way in hell am I letting anyone see this.” She opened her wallet, passed JP every note in there, and leaned in to give him another dose of Camels. “You carry this on and those delicate fingers won’t be painting any more dirty pictures.”

Lust was the word that floated across JP’s mind like a cinema subtitle now even though that was definitely not the feeling he was getting from the woman. He stared at the painting, rolled up and already cracking under the woman’s arm as she stalked off. Lust.

Sometimes he thought he was starting to get it, but his head was so fuzzy. Any time he tried to think about his portraits in detail they defocused like a bad camera image. He’d never been great at art analysis or writing the kind of nonsense his art school had liked, but this was something else.

Wrath was the next word to force itself into his brain. Not wrath from the next sitter in front of him, who seemed strangely calm and pleased with his portrait, holding down an excitement he didn’t want anyone to see. Wrath in the painting. The arms, the legs, the throats, the blood. JP was glad this one went out of focus when he thought about it.

The next day JP was nervous about taking his spot up again, concerned that the man of wrath would return. But he had rent to pay and the square was unusually quiet anyway. None of the other street artists or mimes were there. Had he somehow missed a train strike perhaps?

The square was not completely empty, however; there were many people milling around, and JP noticed with a frown that they all appeared to be businessmen. A silent, straight, sombre line of suits formed in front of his easel.

“What’s the craic, eh, fellas? Is this, like, the world’s dullest flashmob or something?”

The first suit in line shook his head definitively. “We don’t know each other at all.”

“No, we do not,” confirmed the suit behind him.

“This is not arranged,” said the first suit.

“Ok…” JP could hardly tell them to leave for being too polite. He got out his paints.


He painted.


He painted.


He painted.


He painted.

He painted and painted and the sitters, one by one, nodded with their heads to one side, exchanged glances with each other, then rolled the paintings up and motioned for the next person to take their seat before JP had even come out of the daze induced by the last work.

Wrath. Pride. Sloth. Lust.
Wrath. Greed. Pride. Wrath.
Greed. Greed. Greed.

By the end of the day he was relieved when two of his customers hoisted him up, their shoulders under his, and carried him away.

The room was stifling and sanitary and magnolia, like a shell in a show home on a newly built estate. Under JP the bed was thin, a fold-up bed, not intended to be there forever. On the floor next to him was a large plastic bottle of water. He gulped it down like a man escaping a desert.

“Ah, Mr Devine, I’m glad to see you’re awake.”

The voice sounded vaguely familiar but out of place. JP frowned. Did he even want to know?

“Yes, you do know me, Mr Devine, or can I call you John?” The man was kneeling in front of JP now and he couldn’t pretend not to know him any more. Everyone in the country knew him. Many hated him, and many feared him, but many had also voted for him.

“The biggest bastard in the country,” JP muttered.

“Ah, the rebellious artist! You fit the role perfectly, I must say.” The man reached his hand out and twirled a lock of JP’s hair in his finger then stroked it gently along his throat. JP’s body froze while simultaneously every millimetre of his skin tried to shrink as far away from the man as possible.

“Hmm,” said the man. JP gulped. He hated himself for it but he couldn’t help it.

“Right!” in a change of tone, the man got up. “Come. Here.”

JP’s own easel and paints plus an expensive set of extra oils and acrylics were set up in between two green camping chairs. The man lounged comfortably in one of them, and beckoned sharply toward the other.

“Paint,” he ordered. “I want to see what you will see.”

Three hours later JP was dragged to the door, his items all packed into a rucksack with the label still attached. A soldier in camouflage gear pulled JP very close to his face for a moment, letting him breathe in the heavy sweat and testosterone, saying nothing. Then he shoved him through the door and into the world.

Back in the magnolia room the man was jubilant, capering in front of a canvas completely empty of any picture.

“I knew it! I knew it! I knew I was the one in the right! See? No sins! No sins to show! He found out the rest of your secrets without even trying, but me? Tabula rasa! Doesn’t matter what the losers in this country say, someone up there approves!” He smiled, looked heavenwards and put his hands together.

“Well, I’ve got work to be getting on with.” He laughed. “You know the saying: let he who is without sin cast the first stone!”


On the Clonakilty hillside JP Devine toppled to the ground. Blood from his nose soaked into the moist green grass. Around him, covering the entire hill in viscous oils, wrath and greed fought for dominance over their brood of sins.

JP had always preferred landscapes anyway; this landscape was the only canvas he knew that was big enough to fit that man’s portrait.

Screaming mouths, red groins, huge, dead eyes, glittering money and jewels, children holding their dead parents, champagne pouring, rags unfolding into a man, blood, ruins, and fat pink faces guffawing at it all. The hillside absorbed it all.

And all the sins washed down into the world with the rain.