The Red Boat
Portrait of the heart as a seafaring vessel.
Somewhere on the edge of a night-black sea, a small red boat sits on the shore at low tide. Its painted sides reflect upon the glassy surface, its rudder mirrored like the starry calyx of an oversized pomegranate.
In this small painting by 20th century French artist Jean Commère (above), which is up for auction tomorrow in Brest, the titular red boat at the center resembles an anatomical drawing of a heart. Do you see it? The way the bow lifts like an aorta? The way the tiller lies pliant and slick as an artery? This boat, together with its reflection, creates it, that double-decker fist-like shape.
I don’t know what the artist intended. I was not familiar with his work before this week. But I love this painting and its title. Or I am disturbed by it. I suppose it is both.
How did you know? I want to ask him, the artist, who has been dead for over thirty years. How did you know I see my heart this way, like a boat, like this, so small and red and full of holes, afloat on a black night sea? I am forever bailing it out. It is forever taking on water. It is forever threatening to sink. But how could it sink? So bright in the harbor lights, fallen dry again, its insides yellow as memory, pointed towards a distant green horizon.
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