Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Vexed Man

Several years ago, my family was gathering together to celebrate a special occasion at my sister's house in the local high desert.  Each of us ventured to our common destination from our individual port of origin and as coincidences go, I happened upon my brother while inching through freeway traffic.  We honked, made faces, waved like idiots, and commenced the "race" through miserable gridlock as we headed North.  After a brief period, I noticed my brother pulling over to the side of the road and out of curiosity, I decided to see what was up.

Perched on a bridge that was roughly 150 feet high over a dry riverbed, my brother was about a hundred yards behind me so I carefully backed my truck up along the emergency lane.  As I did, I noticed his hood popped and he had gotten out to examine the engine.  Now, I don't claim to be the most brilliant man alive and I have certainly made my fair share of misguided mistakes, but the mischievous inclination I got at that moment--completely disregarding physics and the absolute nature of the circumstances--was probably one of the biggest blunders and horribly stupid things I've ever done.

I don't think I was going much faster than walking speed as I backed up and seeing my brother's backside protrude from under the hood made me feel as if a light "tap" from my rear bumper would be a humorous "hello" that included some innocent shock value (if that is even possible).  Unfortunately, gaging distance through a two-dimensional rear-view mirror coupled with the actual weight of a Ford Ranger pickup truck is not recommended and while that did not necessarily affect how far into my brother I drove, it did affect how far he and his knees were from his own bumper.  Giggling to myself as I tried to lightly bump into him, what was only meant to be a nudge turned into a nightmare as the following view I had of him was his arm flailing upwards just before his entire body disappeared out of rear-view sight into a writhing heap onto the road.

The Vexed Man by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) depicts a man in the middle of immense emotion.  Very well known for his animated busts, Messerschmidt spent the latter years of his artistic life creating immensely detailed works and is even credited by some for inspiring modern-day cinematic prosthetics and "FX."  He lived a fairly short life and I suppose one could implicate his works are living monuments to his eventual fate.

What is expressed by The Vexed Man surely illustrates how I felt for a split second when reality struck that day on the bridge.  To this very moment wrought with guilt and genuine sorrow, I do not know what the hell I was thinking.  But the moment I first saw this piece, my thoughts turned to that dark day as this bust seemingly represents how I felt and probably how all of us have felt at certain moments in our lives.

At first, a viewer might be inclined to feel a bit silly looking at the expression on our subject's face.  There does seem to be an immediate sense of humor about it and I'm not sure why.  However, spending more time to examine the details reveals the shear genius of Messerschmidt's talent.  On the whole, the man appears to be in his 60s or early 70s.  A receding hairline, aged, wrinkly, and drooping skin all seem to indicate that this fellow has seen his fair share of life.  For me, it speaks to the absurdity of the emotions expressed as well as the possible nature of what could make such a weathered man express himself with such animation.

The longer I take to examine this sculpture, the more I feel as if the individual is about to cry uncontrollably.  Yes, at first I felt as if the piece was silly in some way but even now and despite being closed, the eyes are so enraptured in that very moment being frozen in time, I almost feel a little sorry for the man.

I have to admit, I am feeling a bit inadequate to continue on.  This piece is so fantastic, I don't feel qualified to go on about it.  Such an odd turn of events, if I do say so myself.  I didn't expect to come to this moment while I fought for how to word how this piece makes me feel.  It was in that moment I realized that perhaps I'm just not capable of expressing it in such a way that would lend credence to the amazing level of respect I have for this artist and his work.

But I won't leave it at that ... my tale still awaits closure.

After turning off my car, jumping out, and running around, I saw my brother rolling on the ground in pain.  My heart sank as I tried to help him; his utterances of discomfort and complete disregard for where he lay were heart wrenching.  With each rock back and forth, he inched closer to the edge of the bridge which did not provide much protection for humans about to fall over.  Eventually and thankfully, he was able to collect himself despite the unimaginable aches and we were on our way again.  In the coming weeks and much to my relief, a doctor's appointment revealed he was okay and had not incurred any breakage or tearing.

For my brother, my sister, my family, I would do anything and the last thing on Earth I would intend to do is hurt any of them.  It's been a long time since this incident and even to this day, the thought breaks my heart all over again.  Indeed, it is quite vexing to recall.

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