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Chapter 5: The Story Behind the Paintings
“It’s it an absolute masterpiece?” said the hotel owner.
The traveler was in the lobby, looking up at an oil painting. It depicted a tank barreling across the battlefield as it mowed down its enemies. Some of the enemy soldiers were being thrown into the air.
“I’ve seen a lot of paintings of tanks by this artist since coming to your country. Is he really that popular?”
The owner nodded vigorously, as if having waited for that question. His tone grew solemn. “Ten years ago, minor ethnic tensions sparked a civil war in our country. Fellow countrymen slaughtered one another for four years and six months. And at the end of it all, we understood the meaninglessness of war.”
“How does that relate to these paintings?”
“The paintings serve as a reminder. Each and every one of us in this country bears a deep hatred of battle now. And each time we look at this artist’s works, we remember the emptiness and sadness of the past and affirm our determination to never war again. That is why so many people here have them on display.”
“He appeared seemingly out of nowhere two years ago, this artist. All he ever painted were tanks on the battlefield. All masterpieces, of course. Now he is not simply a popular painter, but a creator who gave birth to a symbol of peace. A true spokesman of our country. …Have you been to the assembly hall yet, Traveler?”
The first thing the traveler saw upon entering the majestic stone building of the assembly was a large hall decorated with a massive painting. Another tank was depicted in it, engaged in a desperate and epic struggle. Under the painting was a stone plate engraved with the words:
‘Behold the limp arm jutting from the burnt tank as it points straight toward the heavens—a symbol of the lofty goal of peace to which we must always aspire!’
“A fine work, do you not agree?” said a man in late middle-age to the traveler. “The declaration below was written by the current governor.”
The man introduced himself to the traveler as the principal of an elementary school. His school had recently purchased another painting of a tank by the same artist, he said.
“We use the paintings to teach our children about the horrors of war. They’ve begun to understand that in war, even children are crushed by these tanks—and that that is something horrible and painful, and not glorious in the least. These paintings are more educational than any textbook. The purchase we made was a large one, but I think it was well worth the price. Have you seen the painter’s artbook, by any chance?”
The artbooks were stacked in a massive pile as the bookstore’s centerpiece display. One was purchased right before the traveler’s eyes.
‘Paintings oozing with anguish and life—a must-read book for all citizens!’ was written on the cover.
The traveler opened up the book.
‘The yellow flower crushed under the heartless caterpillar tracks symbolizes the life of a nameless soldier who perished on the front lines.’
The book also featured an essay by a gallery owner said to be the country’s top expert on this artist’s work.
‘The recurring motif of the tank is the most important part of the artist’s body of work. In spite of its powerful cannon and impenetrable defenses, a tank is so easily destroyed on the battlefield. It is indeed a metaphor, a symbol of the strength and frailty of the human spirit. This shows—’
The traveler closed the book, remembering how the hotel owner had raved earlier that day.
“There is great power behind exquisite works of art. These works speak to us on an almost-metaphysical level. They resonate with our souls more than any thesis or political speech. I guarantee you that the artist’s works are on that very level. I wonder now how I’ll look upon his works five, 10, 15 years from now. I want to preserve these works and the emotions they evoke until my dying day.”
On the morning of the her third day on the country, Kino woke at sunrise as she always did.
“Good morning, Hermes,” she said, loading her supplies onto the motorrad’s luggage rack. She came out of the hotel with him.
It was early enough that the streets were still deserted when they rode out into the suburbs and the fields. That was when Kino spotted a young man zoning out on a chair in the middle of nowhere.
“Oh, it’s been a long time since I last saw a motorrad. Are you a traveler?” asked the young man. Kino stopped Hermes. She even shut off his engine.
“Yes. We were just leaving.”
“What are you doing here, mister?” asked Hermes.
“I’m an artist. I’ve been thinking about painting a new work, so I came out to get some fresh air. The morning breeze always helps me clear my head.”
Next to the young man was an easel, a large canvas, and a bag splattered with paint.
“I see. Do they sell all right?”
“Yeah. People’ve been hanging them up everywhere these days. I even saw one of my paintings at the assembly hall the other day.”
“By any chance,” said Hermes. “Was it a painting of a tank?”
“Ah, you’ve seen it?”
Kino nodded. “Yes. We’ve seen your works everywhere. Could I ask a question?”
“What is it?” replied the young man.
“Why do you paint tanks and battlefields?”
The artist smiled. “Excellent question.” His smile turned into a grin. “Because I love tanks! I love them so much that I paint nothing else! You know what I mean, right? Those thick armored shells and the powerful turrets! Caterpillars that can crush anything! Tanks are the king of the battlefield!”
A smile slowly rose to Kino’s face. The artist continued.
“I just love painting tanks fighting in the heat of battle. So that’s all I ever did. You have no idea how shocked I was when I took them to the gallery one day and the owner bought them. Said something about learning our lesson and never repeating past mistakes, and paid me a handsome fee. I was over the moon. Now I can afford good food and the best tools for my work. And I can paint from morning to night, too.”
“You see happy,” Hermes said. The artist nodded vigorously.
“You bet! What could be better than doing what you love for a living? Every day is the best day of my life. Tell me, Traveler—I bet there are cooler, better tanks in other countries, right? Amphibious tanks, ones with multiple turrets, maybe. I’ve even heard of armor-piercing uranium core rounds or frag shells that penetrate straight through reactive armor. That’d be something to see in person. Don’t you think?”
The artist looked up at the sky, entranced. Then he seemed to be struck by inspiration.
“Ah, just thinking about it fills me with inspiration. All these ideas are flooding my head. This time I’ll go with a flat design. Turretless with a fixed cannon that you can aim with a hydraulic suspension system. It’s hiding in a pit, lying in wait for the enemy, as still as a stone. The foes won’t even notice until it’s too late. That’s when the 105mm cannon comes roaring to life! The rounds find their mark and instantly engulf the enemy’s armored car in flames, and their loathsome soldiers will be burning and flailing like in a dance! Yes! That clears out the enemy! Wow…this is brilliant! I know exactly how I’m going to paint this one. It’s going to be a masterpiece!”
The artist clenched his hands into a fist, trembling.
He quickly set up his easel and fixed the canvas on it.
“Let’s get going,” Kino said, starting Hermes’ engine again. She turned to the artist as he squeezed paint onto his palette. “Good luck, then. I hope you’ll keep painting to your heart’s content.”
“Thanks. Safe travels!” the artist smiled.
The motorrad soon disappeared into the distance.
The artist began painting another tank.