“Hi Sam,” cooed Pippa, as she let their boss’s son into the gallery. “We weren’t expecting you until later.”
“I thought I’d pop in to wish you luck, and to take a quick peek at what the famous Jaxx Benson is offering his adoring fans by way of artistic talent. Don’t worry, I’m not staying long. Wouldn’t want my presence to wind Dad up on such an auspicious occasion, but I’ll be back when the gallery closes. There’s something I need to talk to him about after the show, and a hint from the wise – you might want to make yourselves scarce. If I know Dad at all, I’m not expecting an enthusiastic reception. How’s everything looking?”
“Fabulous! Especially now that the pièce de résistance has arrived. Better late than never, although I’m not sure Evie would agree with me. That girl is seriously stressed out.”
“What do you mean ‘better late than never’?” asked Sam, slotting his hands into the pockets of his elegant dinner suit and flapping his elbows.
“Prepare to be amazed!” exclaimed Pippa, as Evie arrived back downstairs.
Whilst Pippa pointed out the new arrival, Evie stole a covert sweep of Sam Bradbury from under her lashes. Whenever Sam called into the gallery to chat to her and Pippa
and scrutinise the various exhibitions, he was usually dressed in his ‘starving artist’ uniform of faded jeans and washed-out rock band T-shirt liberally splattered with splodges of oil paint. She knew he did it just to annoy his father who disapproved of his son’s adamant pursuit of his passion for painting instead of being crowned the next Lord Chief Justice. But, in honour of that evening’s exhibition, Sam had clearly reverted to type. His short blond hair had been professionally tamed into a trendy quiff and he wore a tailored dinner jacket, starched white collar and a jaunty crimson bow tie.
Evie smiled to herself. For James’s sake she was pleased Sam had decided – for one night only – not to engage in his usual rebellious warfare with his father. She knew James had christened Sam the ‘wild child’ of the family and Sam seemed to do everything he could to live up to the badge of honour. Nevertheless, Evie had struggled to figure out why his father steadfastly continued to refuse to allow Sam to exhibit his own art at the family’s gallery. If Sam Bradbury, privileged and precocious heir of James Bradbury, couldn’t get a break in the art world, then what hope was there for her?
“Well, what do you think?” she asked, joining Sam and Pippa in front of the star of the show, taking a few moments to consider the subject matter with her artist’s eye. “Your professional opinion, please. Personally, I think it’s the best piece in the collection. It’s probably Jaxx’s most recent canvas judging by the darkness and despondency of the rest. Either that or it’s been ‘ghost-painted’ by someone else!”
Unlike the canvases on either side, the last-minute substitution was lively and flamboyant – exactly what she had expected to see from the pop star-turned-painter. The juxtaposition between the cobalt and turquoise blues of the backdrop and the saffron and sap green of the foreground delivered a thump of joy to her soul, causing her emotions to scream a connection with the image. Its complex composition was an intensely woven poem of colours which pulled her into its embrace.
“Well, I love it!” declared Pippa, her eyes shining. “Hey, I’ve just had an amazing idea! What if Jaxx is the elusive street artist that everyone is talking about? Flex? You know, the guy who’s been painting the empty shop windows with those fabulous optical illusions?”
“No one knows who it is, Pip, but I don’t think it’s Jaxx Benson,” laughed Evie. “Anyway, what makes you think it’s a man? I happen to have it on good authority that they were painted by last year’s winner of the RCA Young Artist’s prize and that was a woman… and she’s called Martha Felicity Evans. Flex has to be her, don’t you think?”
“I have to agree with Evie, I’m afraid, Pippa. You can’t compare any of the canvases hung on the walls in this room with what the street artist is aiming to do. Their art is a gift to the whole community, transforming ugly, disused retail premises into places of beauty for everyone to enjoy – free of charge.”
“I loved the one that made it look like the store was a quaint, old-fashioned teashop crammed with people enjoying afternoon tea. It looked so real, like you could just push open the door and go inside and grab a cucumber sandwich and a cupcake. They’re even calling the artist – him or her – the new Banksy!”
“I don’t know why the press insist on labelling every street artist who chooses to maintain their anonymity the new Banksy. Why can’t they be individuals in their own right?”
Pippa rolled her eyes at Evie and turned back to the canvas in front of them. “What do you think, Sam?”
Sam folded his arms across his chest, his pewter eyes narrowed as he too studied the work of art. The lemony fragrance of his aftershave floated in the air between them and Evie suddenly wondered why he wasn’t accompanied by one of his many attractive female friends. Almost every time he came into the gallery, he was accompanied by a different girl, each of which could have graced the cover of Vogue but who rarely, if ever, showed any interest in the artwork that was on display.
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