Early on in life I developed an appreciation for painting and understood how a painter could move an individual profoundly with a wordless piece of art. It was not until college, however, that I was struck by visual creations so stunning I truly discerned the power paints could invoke. I discovered Marc Chagall while perusing an art book in the campus store and immediately became enamored with the complexities and color he could saturate a painting with. The many dualities present in the majority of his work spoke to me far more than I’d previously experienced with any Monet or Dali. I’d found my inspirational artist.

Albert Camus once said, “The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” Chagall seemed to have had an innate ability to create a picture depicting absurdity so uncannily, I imagine this as his gift to mirror life’s birth of absurdity with the world’s tight lips to blame.

Chagall was born July 7, 1887 in Peskovatik, Russia to a family struggling to keep above poverty and a smattering of religious dogmas were presented to him. He grew intrigued with Hasidism, which promoted the idea that a joyful outlook on life was best, rather than drowning in the many somber realities that came with living. To fantasize was healthy, he realized, thus allowing the young painter to visualize pleasing, dreamlike absurdities. Chagall’s art isn’t classifiable; he was influenced by a mélange of movements. Although he would never admit it, a dollop of surrealism was apparent in some of his artwork.

One of his most surreal pieces is one that has affected me greatly over the years, entitled “Time is a River Without Banks.” Named with an elegant phrase written by Ovid concerning time’s indiscernible nature, the center object of the painting is a long wooden clock with a large sapphire fish adorning wings flying over it. A human hand pokes out of the mouth of the fish, and it reaches to play a violin. In the distance two lovers embrace next to a riverbank. The entire painting is bathed in a spectrum of blues, common in the painter’s work as it asserted the idea of a constant spiritual peace.

I sought out a print of “Time is a River” and gazed upon it daily for months, and after every thorough gaze a subtle mollification would form within me, calmed by the unique blend of softness and sinew.

This appealing little venture into allegorical art Chagall took would eventually become entwined with a personal event. My obsession had mellowed after several months, and as the bankless river picture faded, a new and living thing occupied my attention. Eight months later, after a typical but brutal run of a 20-year-old’s relationship began to sour, the inevitable maudlin scene of its ending had to come about. It happened by a river. He broke it off with bizarre explanations— something about him having to pay for things he was guilty of and not wanting me to be forced to deal with it as well— and the image of the painting hit me virulently.

Two nights following this event I had a dream where reality and Chagall painting combined. With a blue aura surrounding us the ex handed me his breakup words again. I felt struck, but I couldn't see my assailant.

Naturally this dream I had stayed with me for a long time. I remained enchanted by the artwork but began to grow attached to other Chagall works. The artist’s continual use of farm imagery, couples in love and religious symbols provided a multitude of visual experiences. It wouldn’t be too far off to compare his slices of life with that of any Southern Gothic. Some of his paintings offer a hint of a farmer’s unique elegance similar to images in works by Flannery O’Connor— minus the grotesque. A hint of Magic Realism shows up in plenty of his pieces, again reinforcing a focus on absurdity so as to make living in such a mysterious world a little better. Chagall reflected humanity’s beautiful parts when he painted.

The artist once said, “Great art picks up where nature ends.”

I've cupped beer in my palms like a kitten and it felt softer than flour.

I've scrubbed the stains of rape and confusion off shag.

I've watched my mother try to talk to her father when he was completely gone.

I've seen murder and knew the murder I saw was only a fraction of the death I didn't see.

I've been addicted to drugs and seen demons grinning at me in half-sleep hazes.

I've experienced plenty of physical abuse and spent time in the hole of a catscanner, but my life does not nearly resemble the awful parts possible here. I will cry but will do my best to reflect every bit. Like Chagall, but lesser.

In the dream previously mentioned, I saw art and reality converge and realized that one is not simply mirroring the other but that they both do this: Art and reality reflect one another because they are part of the same being. “Reality” is largely what we choose it to be, essentially, and our lives could be considered canvasses. At that time in my life, this person became a reflection of the Chagall. In time, I would use the event in my own artistic endeavors. But it is because of artists such as this that I still breathe creative ambition; that I suffer, watch others do the same, and still think it all might be worth it.

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