Family Portrait
By Takashi Yama

1

- Takayuki Ninomiya, a painter.

An hour had passed since I had started painting. There was not much cobalt-blue-hue left.

I had been selling only a few paintings each month. How can I call myself an artist if I'm living in my girlfriend's apartment like a parasite?
"I can't make this sky feel right without cobalt-blue-hue. Trying to paint it in ultra-marine-blue would be a waste of time ..."

I didn't do enough preparation for today's painting. Also I'm not very experienced with using oil paints outside.
"I've got to go ..."
I put the dirty palette covered with paint chunks onto the folding chair I had been sitting in, and threw the paint brush into the washing bottle made from an instant coffee can.
"No one would take these ..."
I left the park riding my old bicycle which was also unlikely to attract thieves. The half-finished canvas, the easel and palette on the folding chair would be okay there.

"Howdy."
"Hi, welcome."
As usual, there were no customers other than me. I'd never seen any others. The shop only had dust-covered canvases and oil paints, which implied they had never been touched.
"Um.."
"Oh, there."
It was 380 yen, which was fifty percent higher than the prices of art supplies at the home center nearby. But I only had a bicycle so it was only possible to go as far as the small art-related goods shop, so I had no other choice.
"Then this."
"380 yen, please," a girl who had no makeup and looked to be shop owner's daughter, roughly replied.
"It's enough for today's painting."
I left the shop, putting the paint in my chest pocket.

"Hm.., this painting has depth ...," an old stranger murmured, looking at my painting.
"What's that old man?" was my first impression. Besides, I wanted to paint as soon as possible.
"Oh, thanks."
I was waiting for the old-timer to go on his way.
"Is this yours?" The grandfather looked up at me.
"Yeah.. but I've not sold so many," I replied a little humbly.
"Hm.."
"because.. too much considering... ."

I guessed he might be a person who knew of art.
"What do you mean?"
"There must be a meaning why you're painting here. Artwork painted here only shows the actual feeling and atmosphere of the location," the grandfather said so with smile.
"I see."
What he said was impressive.
"Additionally, artwork unexpectedly painted looks better than those taken into consideration too much."
"Well, do your best."
"Thanks."
Then grandfather left.

I'd never met any stranger who had talked about my paintings in that way. But such advice was very important for me to study art, honestly. Compliments sometimes encouraged me to continue to paint, but I'm still looking for my particular style since graduating an art university.
"Don't consider too much?"
"Hmm ..."
I resumed painting.


"Good evening."
"Hi."
Our relationship had developed in a de-facto co-habitation. Yuko was working as a permanent employee at a computer-related company, then I joined the company as a part-time worker. She was already climbing the career ladder, with younger employees under her. Yuko had enough salary to feed me.

"Is your job busy?"
"Well, I.T. is okay I suppose," Yuko sent me a stare as if condemning that I was still loyal to paint.
"Getting older won't help me keep up with the intense changing I.T., being old would be useless, unlike the evaluation of art," she continued, a little melancholically.

Yuko seemed to have been hoping for our marriage and childbearing with a classical sense of happiness. I realized how much I was annoying her.
I had been submitting my artwork to some famous exhibitions. If only I could sell my works, not as an art work but as an investment.

I debated with myself almost every day whether to give up or to continue. I thought there were only a few idols who lived by creating their own art. I decided that I would quit if I couldn't get an good award at the next exhibition.

There were various associations of art in Japan, and membership of these authorized an artist's work. They could contribute to spread young artists' work into the world, sustain their group activity, attract customers to go their exhibitions, and have connections to universities and politicians. Of course, the painters must have enough skill to persuade buyers as well. No member painter would have such poor skill as not to paint well. The worth of art for me depended on whether people would want to purchase my artwork or not.

"I can have another job anytime, anyhow."
Yuko just stared at me."Whoo ..."

I replied Yuko with the usual attitude. "I will give up if I fail next time."

***

"Congratulations Takayuki!"
It was Atsushi, one of my few friends, who belonged to the same art group as mine, and now waiting to shake my hand.
"Not really," I thought.

- Paris France Art Award
In addition to that it sounded like a far-fetched title, it was not related to "Paris" at all. Though I had belonged to the association, had been exhibiting and wasting years in order to get any honorable award, finally I had only got this lousy one.

"This award is enough and honorable to satisfy you. I envy you, Takayuki."
His reply sounded false to me.

I hadn't known that he was a student in the same grade of the art university I attended. We also joined this association at the same time. I liked his paintings. Somehow they attracted me, because there was some kind of sense I didn't have. But he had never got any prize, so he quit art and started working as an office worker. Nowadays painting had turned into a hobby for him.

"It's time to quit painting," I said to Atsushi.
"Quit?"
"Yes," I replied seriously.
"I can't image that my artwork would make enough money for me to live on. So, I am going to finish living as an artist."
Atsushi seemed to understand what was worrying me - I guess he must have felt the same way.

I had begun to realize that only paintings showing the association in the best light would get the honorable awards. How could I paint what I wanted to, while staying in the association and doing what they liked?

"I am going to quit." And so I decided to withdraw my membership, and to quit painting itself.

"Real life is ..."
Japan was still in recession, and there were very few job advertisements that I could even apply for.

After graduating from an art university, with no experience as a real 'salary man', or even working anywhere as a full-time employee. Painting, while working as a part-time clerk, was my usual living. Such twenty-something year old would only appear as a waste of time for most companies. They would choose new graduates, for a cheaper wage and who had more potential to grow. But I decided to be a full-time worker anyhow.


2

- 2PM, my holiday.

- "Impressionists"
It sounded to me like just a lead-in to get people to buy tickets.

High ceilings, distinctive of most museums. I had almost no experience of coming here as a customer so my heart was beating more than when coming here as an artist. Compared to modern art, there was lack of impact, but the atmosphere was spacious and it seemed somehow European.

Regardless of historically famous painters, I enjoyed all the art. It was a weekday, so there were less customers than on weekends.

I turned walking toward the entrance from the end corner of the exhibition in order to appreciate my favorite paintings again. That was my typical behavior or way to appreciate art.

"Well, around here -"
I noticed the back of an old man, who reminded me of someone. The old man was staring at a painting facing him. He seemed to be the guy I had met at the park recently.
"Hi." I walked toward him.

He was well-dressed, and was looking up at my face slowly. He seemed to be trying to recall my face.
"Remember me at that park..?"
"Um ...," he murmured.
"Do you like appreciating artwork, right?" I asked.
"Sometimes."
Somehow, he seemed different to last time.

"I quit painting, even though you gave me good advice."
"Oh, regret your ..."
"By the way, do you paint?" 
"Yeah, occasionally." He seemed to remember something vaguely.
"Well, see you ..," I said my goodbyes and left.

"So, how was the 'Impressionists'?" Not that Yuko sounded willing to share any impressions I might have felt.
"Oh, it was great," I replied, regardless of her attitude.
"Well."
Eventually, the conversation stopped. Yuko's mood was much better than before I started working again.

Above all for her, anything would be more bearable than the smell of paint. Yuko was so satisfied with our life without the smell of oil. But as a more lasting reminder, there was a large pile of paintings stacked in a closet which were of a constant annoyance to her.

"Hey, those paintings, can I throw them away?" Yuko asked.
"They shouldn't be thrown away of course, who knows when their evaluations are going to rise."
"Well, do something else with them now!"
There was nothing I could say.

The next day, reluctantly I went to put my all artwork in a rental warehouse.
"Sleep here for a while," I murmured while closing the door.

- The New Capital Museum
A museum was being shown on TV, which was newly constructed in Tokyo. It was a large-scale building in comparison to all other museums in Japan. The beautiful form led me imagine France's Grand Palace Museum, which was the symbol of the salon.

"Well, it's a great museum."
"Yeah."
"Our taxes," Yuko murmured.
"It's quite a different scale of museum." I sealed my passion for painting, inspired by looking at the museum.
"Never say that you're going to paint again!" Yuko asked as if she could read my mind.
"Oh, that's okay, I won't." 
"Then it's okay." 
I was thinking that this museum wouldn't so easily disappear.
"It is more important to work our living ... at the moment."


A few weeks later, a phone call shocked me.
"This is the police, I would like to ask about any information you have."

- Atsushi was dead ...

I though little about Atsushi after meeting him at that exhibition. But I couldn't imagine his death at all, even though there was no contact from him since then.
"But hardly ..."
I told the police that Atsushi didn't behave strangely at that exhibition at all. 

His car seemed to have gone into the sea from a wharf. A wound on his body was found in the postmortem. There seemed to be a possibility of murder, the police man explained.

- After a while, his funeral was held.
I attended his ceremony as one of his friends.

There were old friends in art, colleagues and bosses of the company where he had been working. Also a woman, who looked to have to be his fiance. She was crying.
I wondered why Atsushi was involved in such an incident, he didn't seem to have any troubles at all.

I didn't know why but a lot of old people were attending his funeral. They looked relatively old for his generation. Some people reminded me of somebody, but I couldn't remember who they were. People I had had a relationship with, and I had met somewhere.

After a while, one stood out, and I was sure who he was.
"That old man ..."
The grandfather who I met at that park, also at that impressionist exhibition ...
The woman next to him seemed to be Atsushi's mother. She was looking at the ground. Atsushi's father, if that is who the guy was, had a look of dignity, and the impression I got now was different to that of the old man when I saw him for the first time in the park. Gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard, he looked like a former army man in a high position, the neat attitude, vastly different from that old man. In addition, the other old funeral attendees seemed to be there in order to greet him rather than to say farewell to Atsushi.

As I watched, a man approached Atsushi's father.
"That was too bad ..."
The newcomer was well-known to me, Shouji Kondo. The chief director of the association I had belonged to before. I quickly recognized who he was.

He was a tycoon in western-style painting in Japan. Around 1 million yen per piece, a fact known publically, and that price was unprecedented among living artists. The group would find it almost impossible to open their exhibitions without him.

Young artists were leaving art associations. Youths were gradually disappearing from the old-fashioned art world in recent years. The existence of some popular artists gave the group the advantage, but on the other hand, they would dominate the group.

Actually the atmosphere of my paintings was somewhat similar to Kondo's. Only painters who got along with Kondo would get entries. The prizes also would be given to painters who were willing to have credibility with him. It was like a sort of "allegiance painting" instead of "art painting". One of the reasons why I had to leave the association was because of such "something uncanny" feelings.

"Uh, you are ..." 
Kondo seemed to have noticed me.
"Well, you might have unsubscribed from our group, right?"
"Yes, I'm looking for another ..."
"Well, that's a pity. You may resume when you want." And he left.

"I'm very sorry about ..." I greeted the old man who had to be Atsushi's father.
"Oh .. was a surprise! You are Takayu .." "I've heard about you from my son."

After that we talked about Atsushi for a while. His background, some stories when he was a child, the recent job he doing, and so on. Somehow he sounded angry. And it seemed that Atsushi's mother was already dead. His depression was a relatively recent thing and was in relation to his mother's death, his father said.
I didn't know that Atsushi had been depressed - he'd looked so cheerful whenever we'd met.

Standing a little further away, was the woman who seemed to have been Atsushi's fiance, Aki. I had met her at an exhibition with Atsushi before. The makeup around her eyes was already smudged with tears.
"Ooh, ohh ..." She clung to me as she told to me quietly."Th... that father .. he must have killed him ..."
Her eyes were full of sadness and anger. I patted her on the back, trying to calm her.


I was thinking about the funeral after I came back to Yuko's apartment.
That old man was Atsushi's father, and seemed to be an authority on art. Atsushi's real mother was already dead. Atsushi switched to work at a company as an employee. At the same time his father remarried. Atsushi was recently annoyed and worried about something. Finally he got killed. His fiance Aki said that his father must have killed him. The darling of the art world, Shouji Kondo, was at Atsushi's funeral.

Some days later, I visited Aki's apartment.
She began to talk about Atsushi with some anger.
"As Atsushi said, his father doesn't understand paintings at all, and he doesn't want his father to rule the art world."
"After Atsushi's mother died, soon he changed."
"Then, he was killed."
"Yes..., but Atsushi was not such a person who would get killed. Surely his father did it ...," she burst into tears.

After then, I went to a library nearby and investigated the background of Atsushi's father, because his father seemed to be a somebody.
First I researched the art annual of the previous year, but there wasn't any mention of either Atsushi or his father.
"Is he using another name?"

I remembered that Atsushi said "Because my father is an official, he'll never understand painting."
Well, certainly he complained about his father, and he didn't want his father interfering in his life.
"A relationship between art and an official of the government. If there was a connection ... well ... Cultural Affairs?" 

I doubtfully investigated the list of the personnel with the last names of "Shinkawa", and I found one of those full names was "Eiichirou Shinkawa". The position was a director of the National Artistic Center for Education, Science and Technology Ministry. Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Ministry, it was a deep relationship.

"Hm ... that old ..., but he doesn't seem the type to kill his son."
"Rather, he seemed like a director of a good company."
"But so many people attended his son's funeral, he might have some tremendous power in their field."

- One day.
I got an invitation that said:
"The New Capital Art Museum is going to be opened. We would like to inform you that an opening exhibition will be held. Eiichirou Shinkawa ( the director of the National Art Center ) is going to be its chief director and is opening the celebration to commemorate the event spectacularly."


A few days later.
With the invitation in my hand, I stood before the museum. Some visitors were chatting around the entrance.
In the lobby, I found Eiichirou Shinkawa. He looked tough. And he had strict eyes, a neatly trimmed beard and gray hair gloss, all accentuating his dignity. He was greeting those who were coming up and bowing to him politely.
"Oh ... you came ..."
"Yeah," I replied simply and gave a clerk the complimentary ticket I held. 
After signing the guest list, I walked into the museum.

There were various group's paintings on exhibit. Although already my passion for painting had decreased, there was something nostalgic in my mind. I had found another point of view of art and could enjoy it with a different feeling.
"Pretty good."

- A painting caught my attention.
The title was "Family portrait", and the artist was "Atsushi Shinkawa".
It was Atsushi's, relatively smaller than other paintings. Using canvas vertically and mellow colors, an oil painting of a family, his favorite way to paint.
It portrayed a family and seemed to be based on a photo of the family.
Looking at the details, the old man seemed to be the father and a slightly younger woman seemed to be his wife, both seated. There were two older teenagers, each with a hand on one parent's shoulder. The old man was with no doubt Eiichirou Shinkawa, and next to him smiling gently must have been the deceased wife, one of the youths was Atsushi. And the other youngster ... I felt a chill when I looked at the portrait ...

"Oh my ..."

I expected that the woman next to Atsushi might be Aki, who had been dating Astushi for years. But the young woman in the painting seemed to be a little different. Someone well known to me ... Yuko!
Atsushi preferred to paint representational paintings, which looked like photos. But he would never have painted such a fake work, even if as a joke!

I asked a clerk by the entrance the details of the painting.
"I would like to ask about that painting over there."
"Oh. That work? That's been exhibited for Mr Shinkawa's hope.... what's wrong?"
It appeared that Atsushi wanted that painting to be hung there, even if it caused trouble.


To be continued...





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This story is fiction.
( Copyright by Takashi Yama )
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