Nick wrung his hands as he paced around Marlow’s studio for what must have been the hundredth time, then finally spun around with a dramatic gesture towards the largest of the paintings. “Okay, so from a purely technical standpoint, you’re great. Sort of Henry Scott Tuke, sort of Théodore Géricault. You’re a real renaissance man, Charlie. Now, you wanted my honest opinion as an art critic, not as your friend, so here it is.” He looked back towards Marlow, returned his focus to the painting, and sighed. “These won’t sell for shit. Nobody wants a painting like that staring down into their soul except a museum curator, and even that’s only if he knows it’s by someone who’s already in the books. You’re close, but not quite there yet.”
“What’s wrong with them?” They looked the same way his paintings of Kurtz always did, if a little darker and more heavily symbolic. He told himself it was a new period of his art, trying to minimize the fact that no other faces had appeared in these paintings for nearly a year. Everything was Kurtz.
Nick looked over the closest of them again. One central figure, dark tones. Sharp, angular features brought out by the high contrast from a glaring studio light, the same haughty possessiveness of the expression contrasting with the careless sort of sprawling posture. He couldn’t decide whether those eyes commanded worship or fear. Maybe both. He settled on a more base criticism. “They creep me the fuck out is what’s wrong with them!”
“You’re shitting me.” Marlow laughed, then looked back towards Nick. “Tell me you’re shitting me.” The possibility that Nick was shitting him looked slimmer by the minute. Not a good start to the meeting.
Nick jumped a little as Marlow stalked towards him, immediately launching into a defense of his criticism. “Your model’s too intense. Looks like he’s getting off to the thought of dissecting me alive.” He thought for a minute, took two steps back to stare at the painting, and snapped his fingers. “You need something to temper all that brooding darkness if you want any of your stuff in my Christmas galleria.”
“A new model?” Marlow shook his head, already mentally going through Kurtz’s possible reactions to the idea. “You know I can’t—“
“Look. I don’t care how sweet he can talk while he’s got you bent over your desk, but the fact of the matter is that your obsession with this guy is killing your business. And,” Nick smirked, conspiratorially placing an arm around Marlow’s shoulders, “I said ‘temper,’ not ‘replace’.”
He shrugged Nick’s arm off and stepped away. “What are you saying?”
“All I’m saying is that you need a little something sweet in there to take the edge off.” Nick’s hands went up defensively, then back to Marlow’s shoulders, this time keeping him at arms length. Studying him. “Like your color theory projects from a few years ago. Get out of the heart of darkness, as they say. Do whatever you want with that.” He released his grip after a few seconds, picking his coat up from the easel and heading out the door before Marlow had a chance to respond. “See you around! Get your head out of your ass before Christmas!”