by Richard Ste-Marie
Friday night, September 28, 2012
The man was sitting at his desk, head tilted to one side, eyes to the door, left hand clutching the heavy receiver of the desktop phone held tight against his chest, as if he were asking whoever was on the other end to hold the line while he dealt with an ill-timed visitor who’d come to ask something of him. Three rings were on his right hand, resting limply on the desk a hair’s breadth from the phone, but the man wore no wedding band. His office was impeccably tidy. Art books in the bookcase, exhibition catalogues on the bottom shelf, drawings arranged by size on a counter to the right, lightbox empty on the other side, unused since it had been rendered obsolete by the advent of digital photography; everything was in its place. On the back wall of the office—panelled in exotic wood—were four black-and-white framed photographs of identical size, each with their own engraving at the bottom: Ambroise Vallard, Pierre Matisse, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paul Durand-Ruel. On the left wall, labelled in identical fashion, but much larger and in colour, hung a single framed photograph of the man at his desk: Fabien Lessard, owner of the Arts Visuels Actuels gallery.
His turquoise silk shirt shimmered in the light of the desk lamp, the only source of light in the windowless room besides the seventeen-inch screen of the Mac open on a small table to his left, where the multicoloured arabesques of a screensaver scrolled by.
There he was. Quite simply. Sitting right where he always sat at that time of the afternoon when he wasn’t in the gallery with a client.
There all is order and beauty. Luxury, peace, and pleasure, Detective Sergeant Pagliaro thought to himself as he stood in the doorway looking in at the victim waiting for the crime scene specialists to get there. He turned on his heels and went back to find his second-in-command, Martin Lortie, also waiting in the gallery that fronted onto Avenue du Parc.
“Are they on their way?” Pagliaro asked.
“There was that settling of accounts down in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and they’ve finished at the scene. I reckon they’ll be here in five to ten minutes. Not much before then. But I’ve called in the coroner right away to speed things up.”
Pagliaro shrugged and glanced around the gallery. An exhibition of paintings had opened. Large canvases hung formally. In perfect alignment. The spacing between paintings designed to engage visitors in a tête-à-tête with each work, even if it meant showing fewer of them, the lighting almost obsessively subtle since the canvases were so delicate. No real need for a Do not touch sign. Who would even dare lay a finger on such fragile surfaces?
The title of painter Andrew Garrison’s exhibition was Repentirs. Repentance. Backtracking. Some fifteen works were on display, the smallest measuring two metres by three. Pagliaro approached the most impressive one of all. It must have covered fifteen square metres, hanging in the middle of the gallery’s main wall.
The paintings consisted of several sheets of very thin plywood assembled together, their surface then coated with a thin layer of what looked like plaster. Afterward, Garrison had skinned and scraped the surface back down in places to expose the natural grain of the wood; tool marks left in the raw material were clear to see. Still, he had set some of the plastered areas aside and polished them partially. Over these textured backgrounds—half wood and half plaster—Garrison had applied colour with a brush or a knife, but not everywhere. There were also pencil lines, and the artist had voluntarily left finger marks or haphazardly wiped paint and varnish spots.
At first glance, one might have thought they were abstracts, but upon closer examination it was possible to make out images of people and various objects. Such apparitions were fleeting, however. Evidently, the creator had drawn and painted at different times, then partially erased the drawings by scratching or rubbing at them; or he had washed paint over it all and allowed remnants to bleed through like ghosts of former drawings.
Palimpsests, Pagliaro realized. Just like psychology, where ancient memories might be replaced by more recent experiences. Very astute!
The exhibition gave off an aura of vague landscapes, since there was nothing strictly figurative about these panoramas. These were representations of places more dreamed than described, and the figures were more suggestions than statements.
Nevertheless, beyond the obvious violence of Garrison’s manual interventions on these platforms of plaster and wood, the painting radiated a gentle, calm assurance.
These paintings tell a story, the calm after the storm, thought Pagliaro.
The pensive detective finished his rounds of the gallery then inspected the room itself. The walls had certainly been painted in a colour chosen specially to give the paintings centre stage. The kind of expense only the biggest museums would permit themselves. This gallery had class. The furniture came from high-end boutiques, without a shadow of a doubt. Even the door handles must have cost a fortune. On the receptionist’s desk stood a Jean-Marie Massaud vase containing a dozen fresh red roses.
The smell of the flowers in the deserted gallery brought a memory flooding back to Pagliaro while outside a crowd was already gathering behind the orange tape the cops had set up to the background of a dozen or so patrol cars, lights flashing. A whole other kind of beauty, he thought as he watched the police.