Post Religionism

Dec 14, 2021 | Short Stories

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A thriving painter, Dasco, holds a dark secret to his success. His achievement doesn’t come from theories or continual practice. No. It comes from what some call “the gift.”  His past returns, giving this muse demoralizing power that he fears he cannot control, putting his life and those he cares for, in danger.

Enjoy the story in written form, the artwork, and audio through the podcast with improv music.


Does the artist guide the work, or does the work guide them? Sure, creativity is a discipline with a toolbox of theories, but still, there is an external force that drives a person to pursue the arts. I’ve learned from an early age that the paintings spoke to me. Some people might write this off as “the gift,” or I’m being vague like all typical “artist types.” Maybe I do have a gift. It doesn’t change the fact that I worked tirelessly on improving my craft to be a successful commercial artist. Craft can be taught. One’s drive is something deep within each and every one of us. For me, it’s what truly aids the best paintings. It always has. Drive, or inspiration, all comes from the muse.

School was never an easy area for me in both high school and postsecondary. Don’t I sound like a cliché? A troubled artist who struggled through school. Well, it is true. Like the usual creative types, we are outcasts amongst the regular kids who enjoy football or whatever sport is equivalent in their country. I don’t care. What matters to me is channelling this muse that directs me. If I don’t, my skin burns and my stomach twists up inside. Ever been in such mad love that you couldn’t control yourself, and if you tried you become sick? That’s the drive I have. There are visions, sounds, even smells that I must compile from the human senses and express through the one-dimensional plane of the canvas.

You know, there was once a time where civilizations classified the artists as a higher class than today. Their muse was what drove societies forward because it was seen as a direct link to god, or gods, channelled through the artist.

The modern world is different. We focus on tastes and less spirituality. Thankfully, I’ve understood the difference between inspired art and commercial art. Even though the muse is the drive, it’s worked in my favour. I’ve never been a spiritual person, but I accept where the muse leads me, and I wonder about my sanity, thinking about how these ancient artists once ‘channelled the gods.’

As a kid, my parents let me explore my creative outlets, nurturing my skill. It helped that my father is a professor and my mother is a professional fine painter. I had a few friends in high school, but my artistic abilities far surpassed my classmates. It alienated me from the others; even though some admired the work, they didn’t feel they could talk to me.

College was where my true abilities shined. My classmates admired and respected me, and I wonder if they feared me too, for I made their work seem less important. The instructors paid close attention to my work and my inspirations – the muse’s inspirations – as I was simply channelling it.

It sounds ridiculous, but the muse mainly spoke in a dream form, both day and night. You know when you daydream? Your thoughts wander a little bit, going to places you might not usually think of, and then you’re suddenly blasted with an array of emotions, feelings, and visuals. Well, that is how the muse speaks to me. It always has.

In postsecondary was when the muse started using phonetic words. I wondered if this had any relation to my drug abuse. But please, everyone in college was using some sort of drug. Whether it was doctor prescribed or from street, from those notorious Crystal Moths, everyone had some form to boost their creativity. I was no different, and the muse encouraged it.

They were simple words such as “murder” or “love” or “fueled happiness.” I don’t always know what the muse means with these words, but the visuals supporting them repeat the words over and over until I snap out of the dream. I awake in sweats and jolt to life while on the bus or in the classroom. That’s when I know the muse has given me a new direction, and I must act, or it’ll pain me too greatly.

I’ve explained this to my classmates before, and most of them write it off as ridiculous new-age bullshit, or I need a medical doctor. That is fair because we are taught to be creative professionals and use skills to problem-solve the blank canvas. Of course, I use these theories because I think the muse can’t be around all the time.

One boy did take me seriously. Callan was his name. Fair-skinned, intelligent, witty, with a deep alluring voice, everything that I admired. In fact, his interest made it clear as day to me that I was not fond of women. We related on many topics such as our preferred artists, political beliefs, and even the petty things like who we didn’t like in our class. Gossip was one of our many pastimes. We loved observing who was sleeping with who and who was jealous because of it. If anything, we were like those bratty girls in high school with their own secret club.

We also inspired each other, encouraging one another to focus on our work. I explained to Callan about the muse and where it led me. It took me to places I was not comfortable painting like “murder” themes, or if I believed I lacked the skill to do. But Callan pushed me to expand my artistic horizon. I would critique his work too, and he’d flourish.

Obviously, I developed an emotional attachment to this boy. I wanted to tell him, at least until I saw him grow fond of a girl in our class, Jeong was her name. One night, out of blind passion, when we were working alone in the studio, I grabbed his hand and confessed my growing love to him. I pulled him to me for a kiss. He resisted and told me that is not who he was, and he was serious with this . . . Jeong of his. I tried to reason with him, but he yelled. Even then, his voice of rejection was attractive to me, drawing me in. I tried to kiss him again, and he pushed me. I felt foolish, ashamed, for what I had done and stormed out that night.

The next day we pretended as nothing had happened. He critiqued my work as I did for him, and my criticism was harsher, telling him that he didn’t know what he was talking about. I suppose I regret my anger towards Callan, but emotions are part of the human experience, and I use them. I channel them. Good and evil are all mixed into the work that I do. It shows I’m able to harness this energy and manifest it into something within the world that’s both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. It is far more than could be said for any of my classmates in postsecondary, including Callan and his Jeong.

We all graduated. Callan moved on, and so did I. I had my flings and eventually found a partner while growing my career internationally. The commercial success was when my work started to change. The power of the muse was so potent to the point where I shifted into the passenger seat, watching my body animate against my will. I was an observer, seeing what it could inflict onto the canvas. I never questioned it, judged it, nor feared it. I was merely a vessel for something greater.

It frequently painted strange symbols, creating ritualistic styled collages. The muse took influences from all around the world. Hieroglyphics from Egypt, ancient Aztec structures, North American indigenous sculptures, you name it. It was like a strange fusion of every culture and faith mashed into one mosaic. No culture stood out from any of the others; each equally represented and complimented the other.

Post Religionism is what my critics commonly classify my work as. The new style of art blew up. Much like Andy Warhol with pop art or futurism in Italy, I created a new trend. There were imitators, but I was the original, and the best.

Callan and his family came to one of my openings, years after college, in Toronto. He had a son, a younger daughter, and a lady I presumed to be his wife. I didn’t recognize the woman, and it did not matter, Jeong or not. I was in the middle of giving my artist statement for the grand opening in front of a room of two hundred people. Through the mash of attendees, I spotted Callan way in the back. I froze, just as the muse spoke to me. I was blasted with darkness, rivers of red and shores made of muscle surrounded with spines representing trees. The smell was rotten meat and metal. It was horrific. I had never seen such a violent vision from the muse before. I was petrified as the whispering words spoke: “obtain.”

Obtain was not a word that I would use for the visuals that I had. It happened so rapidly that I jerked onstage. My manager came up beside me, and she touched my arm, making sure I was okay. She was aware of my past abuse of substances, and I presumed she thought I was having withdrawal. However, I have been clean for many years, and that was not the case. It was simply the muse reminding me who was in control.

I finished my artist statement breaking into sweats and hurried offstage so the gallery could finish their opening ceremony, and I could wash down this strange array of emotions with a swift drink. Wait, no, there was a second and third as well. I’d never felt so disturbed by the muse’s visions before.

“Dasco!” came that familiar smooth, deeper voice that rides from the bellows of the man’s belly. The dominating voice always drew me in.

I maintained my posture, turning to face Callan who smiled at me. I said I was pleased to see him. I wasn’t. Callan introduced me to his family and explained that he had gotten into real estate. He was excited to see me again, grabbing my arm. His wife and children carried on to the gallery and the two of us walked around the room. I felt the need to apologize for my past behaviours, letting him know I should have never acted so immaturely. Callan was calm, collected, and did not mind.

The muse struck again as I looked at the man. Callan’s eyes were dead centre as is skin stretched across the wall, peeling the flesh open, showing the muscles and bones underneath. It wasn’t a wall but a massive canvas. He tried to speak, but the elongated muscles prevented him from moving, and the eyes simply jerked back-and-forth watching as red paint splattered onto his face, eventually covering his entire stretched skin in shiny red.

“Dasco?” Callan said.

I shook and assured Callan I was fine, just as I heard another whispering voice say to me, “passion paint.”

I had a sickening hunch about what the muse wanted me to do for the next piece, and I couldn’t. Thankfully, my partner came by, and I introduced him to him. We exchanged small talk, not going into our past other than we went to school together. My partner does not need to know that this was someone I was once fondly in love with.

The rest of the show was a success, and I sold several pieces that night. My partner and I said our goodbyes to as many people as possible. We caught Callan and his family on their way out. He invited my partner and me over for dinner, and I agreed. Truthfully, I wasn’t the one speaking. Deep down, I wanted to tell him, no, and I never wanted to speak to him again. But I didn’t. I don’t even know if it was me or the muse.

In fact, I flipped it on Callan and invited him and his family over to my loft with myself and my partner. Everyone thought this was a splendid idea. The date was set, and the wheels were in motion. As the muse took control, I started slipping into the background as a watcher of my flesh and blood. In my studio, I began to work on the new pieces for my next series.

The gallery and my partner assured me that I did not have to keep making pieces as the current opening was doing so well, and there was no need for a new series. I did not listen and was submissive to the muse’s will. I made three, each one using more reds and progressively adding tactile elements onto the canvas. It started with layering the acrylics, gluing materials onto the surface, and then applying sharp and pointed components, like the spine trees I saw in the vision.

After a week’s time from the opening, Callan and his family were in my home as my partner, and I prepared dinner. There was the usual small talk, talking about which foods we like, where we’ve been around the world, why my partner and I will not adopt and why Callan chose to have a family. The talk mutated into college and my work. My partner and Callan’s wife took over the cooking, letting Callan and I retreat to my studio, where I could show him what I’ve been doing.

I wanted to scream. I was, inside, in this darkness, viewing through a small glass window. Callan and I chatted about our art and how he wishes he continued his skill. He asked me about the muse and if I still believed in it, and I made up some bullshit answer on how creativity is simply work, and we have tools, much like a carpenter or welder. I didn’t want him to know how powerful the muse had become and how weak I indeed was.

I felt sweat bead across my skin, and my heart thump as Callan moved closer to the paintings. My blood ran hot, and my vision began to saturate into only red tones. The whispers of the muse spoke on repeat, “passion paint, passion paint, passion paint.”

Then, I realized that the muse had slipped a knife into my back pocket from the kitchen. I didn’t know my physical senses numbed. In this dark room, looking through the window, I could only feel fear of what he was about to do. The muse took several steps closer to Callan, who examined the work in progress. Its hand reached for the knife in my back pocket and held it tightly, walking closer, only a metre away.

Callan lifted his hand and glided it against the canvas. He got too close and yapped, pulling his hand away. I froze. Or the muse froze as Callan examined his sliced hand from the uneven surface. Callan apologized for getting blood on the work.

Passion paint.

The muse relaxed its control, and I shifted from the darkness and into the front seat of my body. Finally feeling the sweat under my pits, the coolness on my back, and the warmth of the knife handle in my sweaty palms. I put it in my back pocket and grabbed Callan‘s hand. He seemed startled, eyes wide but obedient.

I pulled the man into me, and he closed his eyes, leaning forward, mouth open, ready for me to embrace his skin. I shifted his body, shocking him, and guided his bleeding hand like a brush over the canvas. The muse channelled through me, and we acted as one, just like when I was younger. Callan’s blood smeared over the canvas, avoiding the sharp tactical components. I grabbed the brush in the jar of water with my other hand and saturated the blood, forming the symbols that the muse desired. Callan’s eyes were wide, mouth still dangling open. His face turned pink as I released him.

He stuttered incomprehensible words, unsure if he should apologize, be offended, or what emotion he felt. I thanked him and asked if he would like to return to the kitchen to his family. He nodded, wiping sweat from his face and taking the lead out of the studio.

I’m no fool and am fully aware there is something more between Callan and me. Not that matters much, I suppose, for all he served as another tool for the muse. I left the knife in the studio and returned to the others. We had dinner, laughed, and said our goodbyes. Callan and I acted normal, as if the shared moment in the studio didn’t exist, just like we did in college.

I felt nothing of it. Since my foolish feelings for him, I’ve had many lovers and can suppress my emotions for him. The focal point of my concerns is the muse’s power. Its forcefulness and hostility are something I have not experienced before. I wonder if it was my past emotions merging with the muse to create this violent takeover.

I continue to work on the piece with Callan’s blood, painting around it with genuine mediums, wondering to myself if there will be another hostile takeover. It could make a permanent invasion, committing notorious acts. Until then, it is my guiding light, and I am simply the vessel for it to express its needs as we continue to build its mosaic of post religionism.

Post Religionism by Konn Lavery
Author Konn Lavery

About Konn Lavery

Konn Lavery is a Canadian author whose work has been recognized by Edmonton’s top five bestseller charts and by reviewers such as Readers’ Favorite, and Literary Titan.

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