Kemp clicked his tongue. “Color me incredulous. All of these are yours?”
“All of this is mine, yes,” said Seeger.
Kemp leaned over and squinted at a profile of a young girl. “No wonder we never see you outside of class,” he mumbled.
“What’s that?” said Seeger.
“Nothing. You’re style has changed quite dramatically,” said Kemp.
“Oh I wouldn’t say that. A vision. A process. The instances of style are supplemental to this piece. Illustrative only.”
“The portrait of the young girl?” said Kemp. “Oils and brush. Amateurish, if I may say so. Intentionally folky?”
“An untrained hand,” said Seeger.
“You said you studied painting at Walson, though right? So this is purposeful.”
“Yes, all of this is purposeful.”
Kemp crossed his arms. Seeger’s answers were cryptic. Evasive. Further questions came at the risk of Kemp sounding thick and Seeger finding an opportunity to enlighten, to play professor, which he enjoyed so much that Kemp and the other first year students said little to nothing during Seeger’s critiques.
“I must say,” said Kemp, and it pained him to say it, “I’m envious of your prolificacy. I’m lucky if I have a mockup or sketch every few weeks.”
Seeger smiled as if he didn’t entirely comprehend the compliment.
“It’s mostly a matter of organization,” said Seeger. “Most of my time was spent establishing the correct order of the pieces on the walls. I spent days going over photos of our old apartment, piecing together how Sharon had arranged them.”
Seeger’s face paled. He spoke in attenuated fragments. “And that. The photos. That was the hardest. Me and her. Our apartment. The first and only. The hardest part. That took the longest, I mean.”
He tried to pull himself together.
“Who’s Sharon?” said Kemp.
“So you did these back when you were with her?”
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Seeger grumbled. “And no. I didn’t paint them. I wasn’t an artist then.”
Kemp pulled at his sweater. He opened his mouth to speak and nothing came out.
“She inspired me,” said Seeger, suddenly intent. “Look at the honesty of her work, the sheer innocence of a novice hand, the pride of discovery in ignorance of the world of art! I lost that innocence when I lost her. I tried to find it for myself in art school and found only its opposite: the cynicism born of failed artists attempting to teach a curated list of the Conventions of the Unconventional to class after class of debutantes destined for greatness at daddy’s firm.”
Seeger fumed. In the awkward silence, Kemp rocked back and forth on his heels. “So the entire thing is the piece then. The arrangement. Like a museum of your past.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Seeger.
“Neat,” said Kemp. “Well, then.” Kemp reached out his hand. Seeger reluctantly shook it.
“I have to get back to work. Congrats again on your final show,” said Kemp. He left Seeger and walked across the gallery, his steps echoing in the great hall. One more year, he thought. Only one more year of sandbagging the banks of his mind against a swollen river of bitterness and confusion.