Portrait 3

Today we post this exclusive work of Robert Karl Stonjek. It’s an unpublished ‘meditation’ he wrote in the mid 90s.


I had been instructed to ‘just sit’ under this particular tree. I don’t think he had decided on this particular tree beforehand, we just wandered about in the bush for a while, then into a clearing whereupon he said “this is definitely the right one, I can feel it. Can you?” I could, I was sure I could. I nodded.

I was instructed to just wander around, or sit if I wished, or sleep, or just do as I please. I was told not to wander to far, and if I had to urinate to do it over toward a particular bush that was pointed out to me. I was to just be there, that was the important thing – to be there all night. He would be back in the morning with his assistant. Some of my friends had insisted on coming along to watch.

I was told that there was a man in the bush, me, and by morning there should be just plants and animals. It all seemed to make sense. There was a kind of logic to it, but one can’t really explain what it is.

I stayed awake all night. The tiredness I experienced from the ordeal of a freezing night under a tree wondering what I really should be doing had caused some minor hallucinations – I seemed to see things out of the corners of my eyes but couldn’t make out just what they were. I thought “maybe I’m just tired”.

The assistant arrived first and quietly began placing plastic sheets on the ground. On one of them he set up the artist’s equipment, then he left.

About half an hour later, just as the sun began to appear, the assistant led in my two friends who were instructed, in a whisper, to sit on the plastic sheet and remain absolutely silent. I’d say the assistant is in his mid forties, the old artist could be any age between 50 and 75. He is so agile yet has a face that shows age. When he speaks he seems to be just as aware of the immediate future as the past, as if he does not travel along a thread of time as we do but swims in a pool of it.

When he arrived he did not come over to me but wandered over to a tree and asked it how my night had been. Upon reflection I remember that he was chatting to various bushes and flowers as well, asking them about me and whether or not we got along. My friends watched as if they shared a single eye between them.

The assistant quietly gave me instructions as the artist wandered about, gently moving me out of the way on one occasion, then instructing me to stay still at which point the artist walked straight into me, as if I were invisible to him. The artist announced that there was enough of my nature in the surrounding bush for him to work with. He squatted in front of one of the sheets of paper (there may have been a canvas there as well, I’m not sure). He proceeded to work with pastels, drawing the bush as it had been effected by me (the bush captures the spirit – the artist captures the bush).

After a couple of hours the deed was done and the assistant called us all over. He asked me what the significance of various items in the painting were. He seemed to have captured one of the odd wispy things I thought I saw during the night, almost as I had seen it – vague, just out of sight.

“You can’t draw someone’s spirit” he told me, “but I can draw the effect your spirit has on living things. During the night, they absorb as you radiate. During the daytime the flow of energy is reversed. At the right moment there is no difference between the two: there is a fulcrum, a crossing over point. All I have to do is capture the bush on paper, as it captured your spirit through the night, and we have a portrait of your spirit.”

I can never tire of looking at that drawing. As I stand before it I am gradually able to distinguish between a person looking at some depiction of bushland, and my spirit peering into its’ own reflection!!

Leave a Comment:
  • Taran Rampersad 14 December, 2007 at 7:14 am

    Perhaps it is because it is fresh in my mind, but this seems like a more positive version of ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’, by Oscar Wilde. In the book, Dorian Gray pays someone to make a portrait – and whatever Dorian Gray does, his soul pays the price – the portrait, over time, becomes uglier and uglier while he remains the same. At the end, he dies – and the face of the portrait is what lays on the ground, leaving the Dorian Gray portrait looking as he did before he died.

    Thought provoking. 🙂

  • Robert Karl Stonjek 15 December, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    The idea of my piece is that one can capture the footprint of the unseeable by looking at the impression it makes. Humans live in their environment and can’t help but to interact with it. A tracker looks at the ground and sees the impression made by a passing animal.

    The question is – what is the essence of this interaction and can it be captured? It would have been equally true but not mentioned in the piece, that the impression of the bushland should have been found on the individual. Let’s face it, we are what we eat – if the molecules were big enough to see then we would see humans made up of a collage of cows and other animals, fruits and vegetables. That is what we eat and we are the result of that eating – what we inherit from parents barely fills a teaspoon ie you are a teaspoon of inheritance and the rest you ate at some time or other.

    The portrait is the opposite of Dorian Gray – the bush is forever as young or as old as it ever has been and as it ever will be, but we age.


  • CG Walters 15 December, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    A very nice piece of work.
    Thank you,

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