“Graffiti is beautiful, like a brick in the face of a cop.”
-Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Professor Ducard had discovered the secrets of time travel. They lie not in some convoluted device powered by highly radioactive and unstable elements, nor by reciprocating magnetic fields, nor by hypnotic regression or aliens or astral travel. The much sought after method of breaking the fourth dimensional wall, so to speak, was found in art.
A well-respected curator, restoration conservator, and avid collector, the good Professor was quick to discover that paintings, with little to no magical impetus, would transport the viewer to the millennia and decade they depicted. And in no metaphorical sense, either, as countless unwitting museum patrons were sadly killed in unexpected Inquisitions, dropped into pits of hellish fire, bitten in the genitals by snakes, mauled by dragons before saintly knights could even react, or found nude and fallen down fractured abstract staircases.
Ducard’s gallery was a tourist trap in more ways than one, and as such, had to be shut down. The French government, for the first time since before its last socially important revolution, found itself censoring an entire gallery of art. Many scholars agreed that it was a great loss to both the worlds of physics and art history, though few agreed what censorship, if ever, was justifiable, and fewer still claimed that France should have been censoring its pretentious art decades ago.
The Professor himself was hardly missed, however, when he went missing in some dark part of the museum one weekend, perhaps drowned in one of any number of Tempests. He was survived by a loving wife, three fully-grown children, and a cadre of art restoration fan-girls/girlfriends, of which there were two.
But this story truly takes place after the paintings were separated by retailers and oceans, and the gallery itself destroyed in a rather poetically justifiable widespread fire, of which I will not comment, other than to say that both physicists and artists would agree on its beauty.
One such painting, Cave, an obscure artist’s reference of an archaic time, was sent to modern day Chicago, where it still resides. Though it was assumed by the buyer to have lost all ‘magical’ properties with its separation from its gallery collection, and the aforementioned loss of said gallery, it was chanced upon one night by Ex-Cop turned Security Guard Ermine Hester.
Officer Hester, no longer bound for glory-filled days on the street, busting junkies’ heads against sidewalks as his only artistic endeavor, (and Pollock-approved, at that), now had a beat of three wings and a foyer to walk. Though the occasional kicking-on of the air-conditioner would sometimes spring him into paranoid frenzies of attention, gun wavering with nerves and experience, most of his time was spent at his post in the foyer, reading cheap True Crime novels and Detective Fiction, depicting little difference between the two. At the bottom of each hour, he would interrupt such endeavors to stand creakily from his metal chair, stretch his body, yawn widely, and brandish a club for a nighttime prowl.
There was not much to do, as there weren’t many people with the common decency to try and burglarize a collection of priceless art. Probably because, if True Crime tells us anything, ‘priceless’ means ‘immobile’ on the black market. In fact, in his Security Firm job, just as in his former law-enforcement days, Officer Hester had but the occasional distraction of loitering vagrants and graffiti artists about the building to threaten.
Time took its effect on Hester, and employees and even patrons were heard to refer to him as ‘Festerin’ Hester.’ Senility, though not entirely taking hold, was able to grapple effectively with Ermine. The building wasn’t particularly big, so he was the only security guard necessary, and yet was still seen calling for backup on the walkie-talkie he’d insisted on carrying. The curators feared, in the back of their minds, the day when Ermine too his zeal a little too far, and broke open the skull of some hapless spray can hooligan.
Ermine Hester didn’t have much of a background in art, Jim Davis notwithstanding, and as such, defined art as ‘that which resides inside the building inside a frame’ and graffiti as ‘everything else.’ The definition constituted fine as far as the owners were concerned, and Ermine did his job.
Half-crazy as he was, though, it certainly didn’t bother Officer Hester much when he walked into the wing of the museum dedicated to realism in art, and discovered Cave. He may have squinted at it for a second, perhaps even rubbed his eyes a bit, as he walked back and forth to notice the vantage point within the painting changing with his movements. Not a painting at all in fact, he assumed, but an open window to some hitherto unknown outdoor portion of the museum. When it was constructed, Hester thought, he couldn’t remember.
It was daylight according to this portal, and Officer Hester couldn’t recall missing that amount of time that had transpired between seeing it was clearly night at his initial post, and daylight here. Perhaps this was some newly installed modern art piece, or a fancy door that led to another gallery room that was only well-lit enough to look to be outside. Perhaps again, he thought, this was just a shining example of what those longhairs could do with a horsehair brush and plenty of paints. They never cease to amaze.
Ermine took a solitary fingertip and, wary of the damage his oily hands may cause, carefully tried to brush the canvas, only to discover that there was none. With as much trepidation as somebody expecting a window when there wasn’t one, and as much surprise as somebody who quickly discovered a glass pane where they hadn’t expected one, he put his entire hand to the painting’s surface.
Clearly, it was no painting. He couldn’t remember if this had been here yesterday or not, but then again, Ermine couldn’t even recall what paintings were directly behind him in that very room. So, assured now of its integral structure to the building, and as such, his duty to patrol it, he stepped through the hole.
On the other side of that wall lie no other room such as he had ever seen, but a lush forest surrounding the entrance to a cave hallway. Surely, the strangest museum exhibit since Mapplethorpe. Well, perhaps not that bad.
So he continued along, so transfixed, that he didn’t look back behind him to mark his progress. If he had, he would have seen that there was no longer a wall holding a frame, but simply a floating portal that had presented to primitive people quite a spectacle over the years.
In fact, just an hour earlier, Took (a coincidental primitive ancestor of French Enlightenment thinker Alex De Tocqueville), had stopped by to see ‘what was on.’ But he was sadly disappointed to see it hadn’t appeared yet, and made a mental note to stop by later.
Years ago, ancient French tribal people had seen a single brushstroke appear in midair. It startled much of the womenfolk, and several of the men tried to kill it. The children were the only ones in awe of its beauty from the very start. Slowly, however, in a gauche-like haze, a man appeared set in a rectangular backdrop of Mahogany and various instruments. That bespectacled and hairless biped on the other side smiled and waved at these cave-denizens. They screamed and hollered back, and he suddenly disappeared, much faster as he had appeared, and this upset the indigenous people much more. Especially Took, who was a child himself at the time. Over the years, the painting would appear, containing a happy little man who taught them various artistic endeavors, such as constructing their own brushes and paints, and how to depict what you see in your environment.
Where the concept originally came from remains a mystery of poor writing.
Took took to the art form from the beginning, and impressed even that anachronistic teacher with his ingenious ability to incorporate design flaws in the slate tablets as part of his overall composition. Soon after, cave walls were filled with men, with animals, with symbolic gesture drawings with perhaps even no meaning at all. The expressionists had their competition.
Tribal spirals and herds of animals, the first fast food menu, if you will, adorned much of their dwellings. It was something to do, when you weren’t worried about survival or reproduction, which sadly consumed much of the cave people’s time, or else they may have gotten into such abstract concepts as shading, backgrounds, and the philosophical importance of social archetypes. But for now, wild beasts roaming freely floating one on top of the other would have to suffice.
Whether he had fulfilled some fated cyclical need, or was simply speeding up a process that would have commenced without him, the beloved art teacher vanished, and the backdrop changed. The primevals watched as the rectangle showed them moving pictures, different faces, and views beyond their ability to comprehend.
Equally frustratingly unaware was Ermine Hester, as he infuriatingly shook with rage at the blatant disregard for public property, for modern established law, and just downright decency! He tried to rub off some of the icons from the stone walls, but only a few were fresh enough to vanish on his sleeve.
Suddenly, he heard a skittering behind him, and grabbed his club, another unnecessary device he warranted for his nightly use. Didn’t seem so stupid now, did it, as several greasy, nubby madmen appeared out of the darkness, hair matted down into their faces, eyes glowing animalistic through and darting about. They finally fixed upon Ermine, and he gathered enough courage to flail about erratically.
His club was designed to prevent the breakage of skulls.
Theirs, (though hardly designed much at all so much as simply found), weren’t.