Blanca took her brushes, her box of oil paints, her easel and the canvas she’d prepared two days before. It wasn’t going to be a very big painting, just medium sized, with brilliant colors and a luminous but undefined background. Very early in the morning she carefully tied all her equipment onto the special rack she had built for her bicycle, and set off pedaling down the rustic road that led from her house in the country to the place where she always painted.
It was a cold spring morning, and the multicolored puddles reflected the rosy dawn sculpted in ice that the night had forgotten when it disappeared over the horizon, just as it had been doing since the beginning of time, her blue velvet gown and her dark hair crowned with stars soaring through infinite space, traversing other lands, in a perfect dance synchronized with the dawn that announced the arrival of a new day.
Blanca pedaled calmly, breathing that pure, icy air that penetrated her lungs, making her feel alive and happy to be able to witness all this beauty once again, this whole landscape that repeated day after day, week after week, month after month, season after season, in a cycle made of flowers, rain, ice, wind and dust.
All the wonder of nature kept recreating itself second by second for her eyes to apprehend so that she could profoundly enjoy this magnificent spectacle.
“What would happen to nature if my eyes did not exist to contemplate it,” she wondered to herself. “There she would be, in her beautiful gown, with her pearls made of the morning dew, with her arms open in this breeze that caresses me, without having anyone to love her,” she answered herself. “She would have no reason to exist. And perhaps she would not even exist,” she continued to herself, as she smoothly rounded a curve where the willows almost bent to kiss the stream that ran alongside the road.
The buzzing of the cicadas, the sound of the water burbling its joyful notes, its eternal song, distracted her from her thoughts, and for a long moment she listened with immense pleasure to the whole symphony of sounds, of extraordinary melodies, of bird song and everything else that delighted her ear.
“What would happen to all these sounds if my ear were not here to caress them with this enormous pleasure they give me,” she mused inside herself.
“Certainly the silence would spread without limits, because my ear would not be here to embrace nature’s song,” she continued to herself. “And if my ears did not exist, the brook would not be able to tell me any of the stories it’s told me as I napped beside it in summertime, lying beside its bed of lichens, closing my eyes to listen…
“And my children would never know the brook’s stories, because my ears would not be there to listen to them.
“If my ears did not exist, no sound would have any reason for being,” reflected Blanca.
The radiant sun peeked between the hills and the shadows diminished along with the starlight. As the icy hills received the warm rays, the ice crystals were transformed into multicolored droplets that ran down their slopes, carrying the same message they had been carrying for eons.
Blanca pedaled down the hill feeling the wind and the warmth of the new sun on her face and her hands, every fiber of her body vibrating with their caresses as the warmth spread to her heart.
“What would happen to this wind and this generous sun if my hands and my body were unable to feel them,” she thought. “There would not even be any generosity to appreciate, if this body could not feel them.”
Blanca stopped at a bend in the road, took off her jacket, her shirt, her pants, and everything she was wearing. Carefully folding all her clothes, she tied them to the bicycle rack, and as naked as she had come into the world, she resumed pedaling her bicycle toward the place where she always painted.
“It’s with this naked body that I can feel the warmth, the wind, the cold, the snow, the rain and all these marvels that exist every day. Without this incredible body, the rain, the snow, the dazzling sun, the wildly blowing wind, and the breeze that carries the scent of orange blossoms would have no reason to be,” she thought.
From the fields, the perfume of lilies and violets invaded her naked body, their gentle scents penetrated her sweetly, affectionately. And once again Blaca thought that there would be no reason to be for this aromatic concert if she had no way to perceive it.
“All my senses exist to receive the Universe. And if the Universe did not exist, there would be no one to perceive it, and neither would I myself exist. But I can exist and not see the green of the fields, not hear the water’s notes, not feel the rain my face, not feel the warmth of the sun on my arms, never detect the scent of jasmine, never feel the sand of the beach under my feet, nor the ocean waves caressing my skin. And I could exist without ever hearing the crickets tell their stories of the moon at dusk, nor the toads talking about their misadventures when they were mere dragons, nor the butterflies explaining their divine origins. And I would never perceive the fragrance of the damp earth, never see the fireflies dance, never contemplate a golden sunset,” Blanca reflected.
“If that was how things were, my own existence wouldn’t have much reason for being, but neither would there be any reason for everything around me to exist.
“This is important,” thought Blanca, “because this sun that shines and warmly penetrates my body with its rays only exists for me when I perceive it, and I’m the only one who can give meaning to what I perceive.
“The brook tells its stories, but it is my ear that listens to them… In reality it’s more than my ear, and more than my skin, it’s more than my sense of smell and my vision. It’s the way I interpret the notes I hear in the brook, its music, its song, its aroma, its caress,” thought Blanca.
“So I ask myself: what is it that I have, that can interpret what I perceive?
“Inside me I have something that can give meaning to all that exists. Something within me is able to recognize the music of the air, the soft brilliance of autumn leaves, the trembling dawn of nature, the subtle evenings of time, the profound nightfall of forgetfulness. Something inside me confers meaning on all that exists. Without that something, the existence of everything would have no meaning at all, at least for me,” reflected Blanca.
The road widened and little by little the landscape began to change, giving way to broad fields of wheat and corn. The hills were left behind and Blanca, naked on her bicycle, pedaled without hurry across the flat, fertile valley. Only a few more minutes and she would be in the place where she always painted her paintings.
As always, on getting closer to the place, she experienced a mild anxiety and anticipation. She had been carrying out this same ritual for many years, but today was different. Today she had begun to be conscious of something extraordinary, something that changed everything she felt about her art. The pleasure and deep emotion that had always made her look upon and appreciate nature had led her today to reflect, without intending to, on something she had never before considered. Until today, she had only experienced the infinite life in the world around her through her senses. Now, for the first time, she comprehended deeply that within her there existed that which gave meaning to that world. For the first time, she understood that there was no reason to be in this world if there did not exist inside her that “something” that made the world beautiful. Without a doubt she needed to understand that “something,” that which was the unquenchable source of inspiration.
To the east of the road and above the sown fields, the cold mist mixed with that unmistakable odor of salt and iodine, announcing to her senses that she was arriving at her destiny and that around the next curve would appear that beach of white sand that was her refuge and her source of inspiration.
Feeling the cool morning breeze that came off the ocean, she stopped her bicycle at the side of the road and got dressed again. Then she slowly walked her bicycle to the edge of the sand, unfastened her materials from the rack, set up her easel and placed upon it the stretched canvas, virgin white and waiting to capture colors and forms. As she had done innumerable times before, she also set up a little folding table with all her oils, brushes, and palette. Sitting down a few meters from the easel, she contemplated the white canvas.
“It’s so beautiful that way, naked, white, just as it is,” she told herself, and simultaneously understood something very interesting. “No painting can exist without a canvas, but in reality this painting already exists in my imagination. This work of art has already been created inside me. Even if it has not yet manifested on the canvas, it exists…. And that is the most important thing of all.”
Of course Blanca had studied all the complexities of what is commonly called the “medium,” and she understood that the canvas was only that. From the point of view of traditional art, that is to say. But from another perspective, that medium and everything she would create were an indivisible whole. Canvas and painted image could not exist separately, just as the world and her senses were a whole that mutually complemented each other.
Once the work was finished, that canvas would never be seen as a canvas again, because it would contain precisely those forms and colors that transformed it into a “production.” Once the images were on the canvas, other eyes would contemplate what Blanca had conceived with her inner look. She too could look with her own eyes at the finished painting, but that perception would doubtless be linked to all that had existed only inside her when it was conceived as an image.
And sitting still for a long while, contemplating the blank canvas, feeling the breeze that grew warmer as the sun fought with the mist, internally going over all these discoveries, Blanca did not notice the small figure that was also gazing at the canvas with enormous eyes, silent and fixed.
The little girl, who must not have been more than 11 years old, broke the silence of the waves and the noise of the gulls by asking, “Are you going to paint a picture?”
Startled by the question, but more than anything surprised to hear another human voice, Blanca turned to see a little girl with brown hair and great blue eyes, wearing a long floral print dress that had undoubtedly been handed down several times, judging from the style and the transparency that long use brings to clothing.
“Where did you come from, child? Where is your family? What are you doing here?” asked Blanca.
“They’re fishing on the other side of the rocks. Are you going to paint a picture?” the little girl insisted.
“Yes, I believe that’s what I’m going to do.”
“And what are you going to paint?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“So you don’t know what you’re going to paint,” the girl stated with the infallible certainty of childhood.
“And do you have some idea what I should do?” asked Blanca, smiling. After all, children are seldom wrong in their judgments, she reminded herself, thinking of her own children.
“Teach me to paint,” the child said timidly.
Blanca didn’t know how to respond, but she could feel the desire in that small individual, the desire to do something she had never done. Sensitive as Blanca was, she could perceive that this little girl had been wanting for a long time to learn to express that intangible something that she herself had also felt many years ago.
“And why do you want to learn to paint? Surely you’ve painted many pictures already in your imagination, and it’s not always easy to put everything down on canvas,” she answered, not very sure that her words were being precisely understood.
To her great surprise, the little girl understood her question perfectly and answered in her childish voice, “What good are my dreams if I can’t share them with anyone?”
Certainly no comprehension, no matter how profound or superficial, had any reason for being if it only stayed inside the person who had had it, thought Blanca. Not only is that a good reason to want to paint, it’s probably the most important reason anyone could have.
“And what would you like to paint today?”
“I want you to teach me to paint a face.”
“And do you know whose face?”
“Of course I know. It’s the face of my friend. She’s the only friend I have in the world,” said the girl, with a small tremor in her little voice that Blanca did not fail to notice.
Blanca decided not to ask any more questions, took a paintbrush and handed it to the girl. Very briefly she explained about the colors while she prepared the palette, squeezing a little of each one onto it. This time, they would use all the colors, without worrying at all about correct combinations, or harmonious complements, or anything that was just theoretical. This time it would be a party of colors, a limitless celebration of the ability to express oneself. And she would not pay attention to any detail that might endanger this beautiful flower of creativity that was venturing to express itself in this child who had come out of the sea and the mist itself.
Nothing was more important at that moment than to be able to give her the possibility of painting the face that was so beloved and so important to her. Blanca guided the girl’s little hand, and together they made an oval, then with a couple of brushstrokes the eyes… and there she stopped, because the little hand was continuing on its own, moving with great confidence and deep feeling.
Blanca sat contemplating the girl as little by little she completed the rest of the face. With a tremendous intensity, she painted the smile, the ears, the hair, the nose, the ruby-colored lips. She went on to color the eyes yellow, the hair orange. With surprise and an emotion she had not felt in many years, Blanca watched the development of a painting that was without doubt extraordinary. This was a much loved painting, caressed and dreamed of with the power and absolute love one has in those years when one is a child.
The proportions were of little importance, much less the violent contrasts and the impossible color mixtures. Everything fit together perfectly, because it was the heart that was painting through that small hand that had no previous experience, something that did nothing to make the expression any less valuable.
At last the little girl stopped, and with an enchanting smile full of pride and satisfaction, exclaimed, “It’s her!”
With moist eyes and tears of deep emotion, Blanca said, “It’s her!”
The little girl stepped back from the painting to look at it from afar. Very seriously she studied her production and almost talking to herself, said, “When I learn to paint, you will be even prettier…”
With great delicacy the girl gave the paint brush back to Blanca, dried her hands on her flower-covered dress, extended her little hand for Blanca to shake, and took her leave.
“Thank you very much for having taught me to paint. Now I know my friend exists outside my dreams.”
And without another word, she turned and disappeared into the mist on the lonely beach.
Blanca remained standing, not knowing what to think, stupefied and unsure if everything had actually happened, or if it had only been the product of all her existential musings that spring morning. As she watched the child disappear behind the rocks, she realized that she still was still holding the wet, colorful paint brush in her hand, and that the brush was as real as the painting that was standing there on the easel.
Then, as she gazed at that face on the canvas, she could not get over her astonishment, because she recognized the face. She didn’t even have to try very hard to see that it was, in fact, the little girl herself. This had been a self portrait, and one that possessed that “something” that Blanca had just discovered in the background of every act, giving meaning to all that existed.
“It’s her!” exclaimed Blanca.
“It’s her!” the waves murmured, the seagulls screamed, and the sand crackled in that instant.
And in a multicolored, disorderly chorus full of abandon, all of nature said in unison, “It’s her! The consciousness gives us meaning and beauty! It is thanks to the consciousness that we exist for the senses. Your happiness and our existence depend on it.”
Blanca put all her tools back on the bike rack, tied her possessions carefully on, with the painting on top, carefully secured everything and pedaled back home, carrying a treasure that was also inside her.
Nothing was more important than human life, and nothing more essential than the consciousness that gave meaning to everything. She was only a girl who would grow without limits…
Portland, Oregon October 1998
Blanca is a story written a long time ago but for me it is still beautiful.