Thursday, July 02, 2009

Michelangelo Paints a Nantucket Ceiling

I was wondering the other day, during the final stages of yet another frenzied and chaotic contract, what it would be like for the great Rennaissance master Michelangelo Buonorotti-Simoni to paint the Cistine Chapel ceiling on Nantucket. You can just imagine it here -- one of those gaudy giants on Polpis Road that the Historical District Commission can't sem to stop people from building. The HDC would have won the usual small victories: the outside would be shingled, the decks and the widow's walk would really help the old-fashioned monstrosity fit in.

Mike would have been required to bid on the job, of course, and to get it he would have to bid low, competing against guys who were planning to project picture from the Classic Comics versi0n of the Old Testament and color them in with crayons, guys who were going to buy some cheap neon-paint-over-black-velvet at craft fairs and just glue them to the ceiling, saying "Hey, from the floor you can't tell the difference anyway."Mike probably wouldn't get the job these days, unless he could find someone willing to dom it time and materials, someone as rich as -- well, how about the Vatican?

Still, in order for it to be an authentic Nantucket paint job, the chapel would have to be under construction when Michelangelo started painting. That way he could suffer the standard annoyances of carpenters' table saws blowing wood dust into his wet paint, the General Contractor screaming into his cell phone, the designer changing panels and addiong sections without warning at the iron whim of the customer. He'd also have to contend with the electricians punching holes for outlets and plugs into the bodies of various seraphim and cherubim and plumbers causing leaks and water stains with incorrectly sealed pipes. The ceiling would have to be plastered first, since frescoes are always executed on fresh plaster. The precise kind of plaster Mike needed would only be available in tiny bags at ten times the off-island price. nd then, of course, Mike would get to enjoy the traditional nantucket treat of waiting for the plasterer to show up.

Once the job was underway, he'd need a crew of college kids working with him, kids who th0ught the charcoal 'cartoon' sketch under the paint meant Garfield and the Simpsons. "What, no word balloons?" they'd laugh. All of them would be hung over most of the time and in the new manner of college painters, they'd actually brag about it at work. "Sorry I ruined your King David dude, but like, I was sooo wasted, man ..."

While he struggled along with this dismal group of pampered cynical lazy trust fund babies who took the job primarily to launder their drug profits with a legitmate pay check, Mike would also have to cope with the owners. Soon he would miss those daily visits from the Pope, with his badgering "When will you make an end?" After all, the Pope was generally satisfied with a curt "When I am finished." Nantucket home-owners don't sit still for that kind of uppity back-talk. "But we're coming up Thanksgiving," they'd whine. "We want to move furniture in. Can't you skip a scene or two?" Despite the hurry they'd still have their punch lists. The Pope never gave Michelangelo a punch list. On Nantucket, Mike would be scrambling around, cleaning paint specks off the chapel floor, changing the expressions on Jacob and Jeremiah, forever.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is the decorators. You can just see them, climbing out of their limousines on the job site, trmping through the mud, ducking inside and craning their necks up to stare at the single greatest sustained work of art in human history, and saying "It's so cluttered. And I especially asked for pastels. We'll never get the drapes to match! Anyway, we were hoping for more of a New Testament look."

It wouldn't really matter, though. In the end they'd wallpaper over the whole thing anyway, and then stiff Mike on the last payment. Long before that, though, I suspect the Master would have fled screaming back to Florence. The locals would be smug about it, talking about the bad economy shaking out the illegal immigrants (He never did get a green card). As to the job itself, the black velvet pictures guy would wind up finishing it. The other tradesmen would chuckle and share that time-honored question, that rhetorical shrug of the shoulders about the shopddy work on seven-figure construction projects, the casual acceptance of mediocrity that drove Michelangelo away in the first place:

"What do they expect for a million bucks?"

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