#196 Work In Progress

by Lee Xiang Yin

I once knew an artist who painted using the wings of butterflies. He would catch them first with a net, place them inside jars and freeze them. After a week, he would take the dead insects out and did the precise surgery of detaching their wings off.

When he had enough wings to go on, he would brush glue on the canvas, section by section according to whatever image he had in mind. Before the glue dried, he would then quickly pin the wings onto the surface and his painting would begin to take form. He never had to sketch.

Whenever I saw him at work, I noticed the colors first. Peacock blue, deep green, soft brown, bright red, an eye here and there, Monarch orange—all clamoring under his hands, shaped by that invisible map only he knew. In front of me, spring would suddenly arrive when there had been nothing at first. Peonies would follow, and—oh, this wicked man—a butterfly would hover above.

His most famous work, however, was a self-portrait made completely out of Black Swallowtails. It was no better than the rest of his pieces, but people talked about it the most. It was his last, after all.

You see, he was found dead in front of this unfinished painting—still sitting on his stool, face down on the table, smeared with glue and dried black wings. Overdosed, they said.

Or perhaps he’d seen too much of his face on their wings.

Who knows?

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