I was there alone for long time. Locked in and out of communication with the world. I had what I was given. Pencils, pens and paint. My commands were printed clearly on the door. The first instruction was simple;
Cover every wall of this room ceiling to floor with your works to my satisfaction and I will open the door.
After a brief period of resistance I gave in to the demand. I consider myself an artist, I had only been instructed to work. I drew the world outside, bright gleaming and open. I rushed through it all, one giant piece that ran over the walls. It came together faster than anything I’ve ever done before.
I stared at the walls. I had completed the task by my judgement. Not by theirs. To my satisfaction it said. I looked at the camera dome that hung in the centre of the ceiling. I kicked at the heavy door again feeling only more pain. In truth the painting while covering every wall was far detached from the high level of detail I could achieve when I persisted. I added small leaves to the trees and lines to wrinkled faces of the painted persons that watched me. I wrote a small, semi-obscured paragraph detailing my frustration on the back cover of a newspaper held in the hand of one of the figures. I added to the depth of the landscape. For some moments I forgot that I was captive and existed only in the work. After an interval of time twice that which I had taken to cover the walls I had run out of details to add. Inside the blackened dome I heard the camera rotating to inspect my efforts.
The door opened with a heavy clang and I was let into a larger, second room which adjoined a much needed rest room. This room was taller than the last. A camera sat atop a podium above the provided materials. A second door, possibly to the outside world, held the next instruction just like the first. The room held yet more materials and tools.
Cover this room to my satisfaction as before using a blue dominated colour palette and I will open the door.
It was ridiculous. Why should I do as told. I had completed my last instruction as a platitude. I banged the next door. It was as hard and heavy as the last. My blood painted the handle before I gave up.
I was hungry. My favourite sandwiches sat in a Tupperware box on a smaller plinth beneath the camera beside a large bottle of water. I sat on the cold, dusty concrete floor eating the sandwiches and glaring at the camera. I listened with my eyes closed but heard nothing but the low buzz of the lights.
Giving in to rage I opened a large tin of blue paint and threw it at every wall. I finger painted the words: let me out and tried the handle again. The dull rattling of the door did nothing for my freedom.
I relented again and painted vast patches of colour without purpose. The words let me out became just a pattern I painted in every shade and hue of blue on those walls. Leaning on the wet paint of the walls I realised that they were only panels of wood bolted to a surface behind. I beat and punched at the wall, the paint exploded in splashes as my bloody fists hit the primed chipboard. Small dents amassed and finally I managed to remove a chunk with the leverage of a palette knife. Brick wall rewarded my efforts and I screamed and shouted and spat at the camera. I collapsed on the floor of the room and slept amongst the crap.
Hunger woke me but there were no more sandwiches. I finished the water and filled the bottle again in the bathroom sink. Not even the bathroom had a window. There was no option for me. I painted endless open doors and gates in blue. I painted my house, my bed and my kitchen and cross sections of everything else I missed. I painted the words fuck you backwards on the glass dome of the podium camera.
After finishing the final details of my comfy bed the second door opened onto a hallway. Another open door beyond the hall revealed the largest room of all. On tables in the middle sat my sketchbooks and preparatory drawings. A terminal sat on one of the desks. The screen displayed my next instruction:
Complete three of the works you have been planning since you graduated.
A canvas for each of the planned paintings was waiting for me. Each measured to the exact size and primed ready to work on. I found it hard to battle the command this time. The pressure my captor was exerting on me to produce these works seemed the strong voice I needed to get back to work after years of stagnation. I had planned, to the brushstroke, endless paintings that never happened. They would be the greatest works of art ever known when I was finished but the problem was I never started. It never felt like he right time. I never felt ready to undertake the greatest task of my life. Instead of starting paintings I would endlessly refine the plans or begin workings towards yet more paintings that would never come to be.
In the third room there was a large fridge and a first aid kit sat atop it. I tended my wounds and ate a hearty meal of cold porridge.
I looked at the message again:
Complete three of the works you have been planning since you graduated.
For the first painting I chose to paint the portrait format abandoned tower I had sketched endlessly as something that would fit a wall floor to ceiling so a average adult eye point from the cordon I hoped would surround the painting the viewer appeared to look down towards to the base of the tower and up into the sky to see it’s top. The warped perspective was something I had wrestled with for years but at that moment I attacked it without thinking. I pained the dark and melancholy sky on which sat the broken shell of a once mighty and respected industrial powerhouse. I painted the marks of the world around it left as explorers and artists alike left their mark on the stone. Light shone through the broken walls to reveal the fragile state within and through the open windows and doors rotting wood and thriving weeds aplenty could be seen. As planned I painted my cat sitting in one of the upper windows staring at the viewer. I painted the grain of the stone and individual blades of grass turned blue by the fading light. Broken glass altered the world behind as I added the final strokes to the first of my planned paintings.
The second painting was a blazing phoenix at the heart of a library. Lit only by the fire of the mythical bird and burning books around I created a cavernous space and delicate pages floating on the warm currents of air as the singing bird spread small clouds of ash into the inferno. I depicted the calligraphy of finely detailed ancient tomes and the intricate carving of the wooden panelling of the high ceiling above. I worked famous tomes on immortality and resurrection into the pile of books half burnt on the table. I showed a blackened globe, it’s darkened paper peeling in the heat. The phoenix’s eyes reflected a figure in the doorway behind the viewpoint. It had less meaning than some of my paintings but more ambitious use of colour in the fire and the eyes of the bird.
My last painting in that room was of Edinburgh my hometown from the sky. I painted the city like Chernobyl, desolate and overgrown. Forests grew on treetops and a thick carpet of grass lined the streets. I wrought destruction on the city, the damage done by nature taking back the land. I drew birds flying beneath and their shadows in large pools of water below. The reflections were the labour of many hours during which I had many a brief break for more porridge. I looked at the message on the screen again. I was almost done.
I signed my name in broken buildings and the darkness of shadows across the rooftops of the city. The name Jim had to be looked for but it was there. Car that had become greenhouses littered the grassy streets.
With the last touches done I held the painting up to the camera and told it to let me out. On the screen my last instruction appeared:
At the back of the fridge is a syringe which contains an anaesthetic. The last door is open. In the next room is a bed. Inject the anaesthetic, leave the syringe here and lie fall asleep on the bed. You will awaken in your home.
It was perhaps the creepiest of the commands but still I saw no way out of this bunker. Without a choice I followed the instructions and lay on the bed in the next room. In a minute I drifted off into a deep sleep.
I awakened as promised in my own bed. When the drowsiness had worn off I realised the three paintings were leaning against every other wall of the room. It was early morning, the sun was just rising over the horizon as I picked up the painting of the phoenix I’d meant to paint for years. I left the room and checked the small flat. In the next room all of my furniture had been bunched up against a wall so that the panel boards I’d painted in each of the rooms of my captivity would fit. Everything else in the house seemed the same. My sketchbooks and scraps of paper had been put back in almost the same place. If anything the place was too tidy. The doors had been locked and my keys, all of them, were on the hook. The windows were closed and I could see no one watching the building from outside. I lapped the house looking for someone, it was odd to be back in my own home and still alone. There no notes on the doors and no foreign computer terminals with instructions flickering on their screen.
I returned to my room and noticed something more useful. A brown envelope had been waiting for me on my bedside table. Id been too distracted to notice. In the A4 envelope was a large certificate and a DVD in a clear plastic case. The certificate was like a receipt. It had my signature in clear handwriting at the bottom. I’d paid five thousand pounds to some one in cash. I couldn’t concentrate on the small print but kept wondering about the DVD. Was it a making of? Did it document what the cameras saw me create in captivity?
The DVD began to play as soon as I put the disk in my living room player. I watched myself in conversation with two men in that room, their faces were blurred. I had the cash in an envelope in my hand. I gave them the money? We talked about my struggle to create. They would force me to overcome my artists block. I stood up from the couch with the video still playing. I looked at each of the panels of painting. I had achieved in no time at all what I had stalled on doing for years. The blank canvases sat in the hallway.
I pulled a sketchbook from a shelf and set to work. I would never stop again, a slave not to captivity but the ideas within me. They would be realised and later I would share them with the world. The sketchbooks would become obsolete as their ideas came to fruition. The men would not bother me again. I did not need them.