The Painter Revealed

by The Cowl Editor on November 9, 2017


abstract painting on canvas
Photo courtesy of

by Marisa Gonzalez ’18


White walls surrounded him, cared for him, gave him a home. It had been three years since Ian Michael Emerson was admitted into the Rockville Mental Institution. It had been two years since he started art therapy. No one was really sure what was wrong with him. Ever since the day he was admitted, I. M. Emerson had never left his little corner. This corner became his world, the white walls his canvas.

I.M. Emerson was a great mystery to the nurses. He seemed content in his corner, although nothing was there. It was just him.  “It must be lonely,” said one nurse. She was young, too young to understand the beauty of being alone. “It must be boring,” yawned another. She, too, was naive.

Emerson had been listening and smiled. He then closed his eyes and let the white walls consume him. After a year of watching Emerson stare blankly at white walls, one nurse decided he needed a way to express himself. That was how I. M. Emerson got his paintbrush, his magic wand. When a brush, paint, and a blank canvas were placed in front of him, he smiled, his eyes shining. He picked up the brush and carefully dipped it into the red paint, and thus the painter was born.

It was not until May 14 that someone had discovered his secret to contentment. Nurse Plath was a young woman with fair hair and brilliant blue eyes. She had often watched Emerson from afar and marveled at the man’s quiet demeanor. “Too quiet,” Nurse Plath thought. “Something must be going on.” It was on May 14 that she decided to make the mysterious man talk. She took a breath and entered the room.

Once in the room she was greeted by bright, untouched white walls. They were so free and unworn, she suddenly felt happy. As her eyes made her way into Emerson’s corner, that happiness faded away. The walls in his corner were filled with scratches and canvases.

Her eyes glided toward each canvas. They were filled with mixed colors, splattered like a child painted them. She noticed the man, eyes transfixed on his current painting. This made her feel uneasy. Why would a man be so concentrated on a splatter of color? There was simply nothing there. Nurse Plath looked away from Emerson and her eyes fell on a canvas sitting in the center of the room.

This canvas had an actual painting on it. Unlike the others, it was shrouded in vibrant light. As she got closer, she noticed it was a painting of Emerson.

“That is my dream.”

Nurse Plath jumped. She turned and saw Emerson. No one had really seen him before. He looked old, as he was draped in darkness from the corner. However, when he came toward the canvas in the middle of the room, he lit up. Youth and ambition exploded from him. He smiled crookedly.

“It’s nice,” Nurse Plath smiled. She then looked back at the wild colors of the other canvases and asked, “Why has this painting not been put up?”

Emerson tilted his head. His eyes crinkled. “Why do you ask?” he inquired.

Nurse Plath smiled politely, “Well, it is quite beautiful.”

Emerson nodded his head slowly in understanding.  “Indeed, but that painting does not portray life. It’s only a dream. True life is chaotic and one needs to find beauty in the madness.”

He stepped back into the corner and was once again engulfed by darkness. His appearance returned to that of an old man.  “This is my reality,” he stated. “And I am content.”