by Ali Hammad
THE GOLDEN CALF
Let me introduce myself. But I will not tell you my name. If I gave you my name, I will need no introduction.
I am a painter who is known for his realist aesthetic. Idealization and mannerism in art, I dislike. I am famous for my devotion to realism—naturalism à la Caravaggio. I am a master of contrast—chiaroscuro as it’s called in art. I create light from dark, and dark from light. (And, too, I turn canvases into millions of dollars.)
Most of you, by now, know who I am, but for those slow on the uptake, I am Haroon (Aaron to some) the Painter, more famous than da Vinci or Rembrandt, and certainly richer.
There was a time when I was unknown and poor, selling only a few paintings here and there, for pennies, like mediocre artists would. But I was never mediocre, only unrecognized. That was until the day I took a walk in the countryside that I used to live in.
On a summer day several years ago, I wandered far on a forgotten, unpaved country road. To a happier soul, the day would have been brilliant. For me, it was hot and rueful, as blue as a succession of untold numbers of days past.
I came upon a golden cow, her head and trunk jutting forth from tall, untended prairie grass. She seemed like a statue, motionless and oblivious to a number of flies resting on its face.
In retrospect, it was a beautiful sight, but I was too preoccupied by my failure in my profession to take in the sights. I paused only for a second or two, and then walked past the cow. That’s when I heard a curt “Moo.”
I turned back and looked. Could it have been the cow? “Moo to you, too,” I said with a sneer and walked on.
“You seem a little blue,” came a voice.
I turned around and looked at the cow. “You can’t be talking; are you?”
“Sure I am. I am the golden calf. I can do anything. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No. I am just new to talking to cows,” I said, swallowing my astonishment.
“I can grant wishes to those who abide by me. You want to try me?” she said.
I nodded a non-committal nod.
“What’s your name?” she asked
“Haroon. Some call me Aaron.”
“What’s pulling you down?”
“I am a failed artist,” I said, and then gave her a brief description of my vocation.
“Ah, all you need is a masterpiece, an icon for the world,” she said. “The world is in love with idols—political idols, religious idols, romantic idols, movie idols, sports idols, arts idols, ethnic idols, et cetera.”
“And where do I find one of those.”
“Paint me,” she said. “You are a realist. Don’t embellish. Just paint me in all my golden glory—a new icon for the world. And what better person to do it than one named Haroon or Aaron!”
“And will that bring me money and fame?” I asked, ignoring her scriptural references.
“Try me. Maybe I’m the cash cow you’re looking for.”
“Moo,” she said.
“Moo?” I inquired, bemused.
“Moo-lah,” she answered.
I laughed again, took a picture of her with my cell phone, went home and painted my masterpiece: The Golden Calf.
Money and fame poured in. I became rich and known. What happened after that is a different story—a story for another time, perhaps.
Photo and story by Ali Hammad