Today we shine the spotlight on Anne Whitney and her debut novel
The Art Of Love,
available June 18th, 2013
From the blurb:
Marina Phillips has spent her entire life as her father’s victim. But enough is enough. All it took was one moment of realization to send her fleeing across the country into the unknown of New York City with no plans and no money. A new life without the constant torture is all she wants, but what she finds waiting is something she never expected. Fitz is New York’s premiere playboy artist. Sexy, tattooed, and coveted by women and men alike, his performances are heralded as the coming of a new god of modern art. But when Marina wanders into his show, she becomes the inadvertent piece he’s always waited for – a girl to sculpt, to change, and to craft in his own image. She never expects to fall head over heels into the world of parties, drag queens, agents, and artists craving for her and her benefactor. She didn’t even expect to begin falling in love with someone like Fitz, the sexy, pretentious man of her nightmares. Above all, Marina never expects her father to stage a cross-country mission to paint her as a kidnapped girl taken by a psychopath. With her life on the line, Marina has no choice but to accept Fitz’s proposal – change everything she is, inside and out, for the chance to start anew. But Marina has plans of her own. Plans that will rock her world forever.
The artist, thankfully clothed in tight fitting jeans and a v-necked t-shirt that shows off an intricate tattoo on his collarbone, recognizes my burning red face and extends a hand toward me. I hesitate for a few moments before shaking it quickly and taking a large gulp of champagne. The taste is sharp in my mouth and makes my lips purse. I’m not used to alcohol, having deliberately avoided it for most of my life (along with the punishment that would accompany even one sip), but now seems like the perfect moment for some Dutch courage.
“So this is my glamorous assistant,” he says with a smirk.
“Fitz, this is Marina,” Viridian says, waving her hands at the pair of us. “She’s never been to any of your shows before, so I think you owe her an apology for scaring the shit out of her. The reaction on her face with the food. Priceless!”
“Do I?” Fitz asks, looking very amused. “I’ve never had any complaints before.”
I can feel my face burn. It was already a very lovely flush of scarlet but now I wondered if it would ever return to its original shade - pale, lifeless, doll-like. I take another sip and pull at my jacket with my free hand. Anything to keep me from fidgeting like a child.
“Cool your jets,” Viridian laughed. “Just ignore him. Fitz has an ego the size of the Chrysler Building, not at all helped by all the fawning these yuppies and art school kids do.”
“It’s not my fault that a significant portion of the city’s population has such discerning taste.”
“Oh god, it’s never-ending with you. Hmm, my glass seems to be empty. Gimme a second. Don’t run off, Marina, okay?”
Before I can respond, Viridian is dashing off to mingle with other colorfully dressed patrons. Fitz and I stand together in awkward silence. I tap my toe anxiously against the ground. He looks me up and down like I’m on display to the public (well, I guess I was in a fashion, thanks to him), and I quickly feel very self-conscious in my well-worn duffle-coat and faded jeans. My entire ensemble couldn’t scream ‘tourist’ any louder if it tried. A blush blooms over my face, but it isn’t just because of embarrassment. It’s just as much attraction.
“Don’t you just hate uncomfortable silences?” Fitz asks. My wide-eyed state greatly entertains him. “Are you new to the art world or just new to the world in general?”
I can’t take this any more. I left home to escape the constant feeling of inadequacy (among other reasons) and I have no intention of letting it follow me thousands of miles across the country. I down the rest of the champagne left in my glass, ignoring the burning taste in my throat.
“I just moved here and I’m afraid I’ve not had a lot of time in my life for art.”
Fitz seems a little taken back by my sudden spark of life. Good, I think. If I can keep this up, then maybe I could survive in this city.
“Well then,” he says. He suddenly goes stiff, both in mannerisms and voice. “Welcome to New York, I guess. I trust that you’ll look back on your first night in your new home, as well as your first foray into modern art, fondly.”
I move to drink another sip from my glass but quickly remember that it’s empty. A tall, skinny man walks past with a tray of glasses and Fitz swiftly moves to take the empty glass from my hand and replace it with a full one. His warm fingers brush against mine and I realize how cold I am.
“That calls for a toast, I think.” Fitz raises his glass toward mine and they clink. “To your new beginning and to me getting paid for this.”
My lips form a tight smile, but I feel like a poker player disappointed by his hand. My new beginning hadn’t quite gone as I’d imagined it would. I have never been so naive to assume that I would turn up in a brand new city and immediately fit right in and become the person I’d always dreamed of, but the reality I found myself in still made my heart clench with fear. The cards are on the table and it’s not what I wanted at all.
“So what did you think of my show?” Fitz asks off hand as he watches the reception unfold around us.
“I’m not entirely sure I’m the best person to ask,” I reply. “I don’t know much about your kind of art. Or art period, unless you count fingerpainting. And I don’t think I got the part about what being naked has to do with anything.”
“But that makes it the best reason to ask you,” he says. “Art isn’t just for artists and rich assholes. It’s for everybody. It’s nice to see some new faces at these things besides the women who think I’m a free male stripper. Which I don’t mind, obviously. If you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it, right?”
“Is that why you...” I struggle to find the words. Is that why you decided to zone in on me and practically give me a lap-dance? My mind fills in the blanks. He seems to understand what I’m trying to say and continues smirking.
“Maybe,” he admits with a shrug. “Your reactions were perfect for the piece. But don’t take it personally. I like to go for the visitors who are there mainly for the free food.”
“Oh.” The awkwardness returns. The substitute dinner I had gleefully consumed only a few minutes ago swirls in my stomach. So much for blending into the crowd.
“The Art of Gemini is about the human condition and comfort,” Fitz explains in a peculiar sing-song. “Humans like us aren’t used to nudity in public, and the discomfort of a strange man’s penis hanging inches from your face. Unless you’re into that kind of thing, of course.”
“Of course.” I pray for the floor to crack open and swallow me whole.
“Hey, relax. That’s what the food’s there for. My shows would be a hell of a lot smaller and quieter if I ditched the buffets.”
“People will do anything for free food,” I mumble. “Human nature.”
He looks at me strangely, as if he’s peering into the depths of my soul, analyzing every thought I’ve ever had. If he really could see what went on in my mind, though, he would probably turn around and run away as fast as his legs could take him.
“Enough stalling.” Fitz claps his hands together as his lips quirk into a smile. “What did you think of my show? Be honest. Brutally honest if you must be. It wouldn’t be the first time someone called me an exhibitionist hack.”
I think about my answer very carefully for a few seconds. Truthfully, I don’t know how to properly talk about something like this. I had never really studied art at school and have no idea how to even begin discussing paintings and sculptures, let alone a beautiful naked man getting up close and personal with me in front of an excited crowd. Was it even art? What the hell was art? If public nudity could be art, then what else could be? The questions forming in my head just confused me further. Fitz stared at me expectantly.
“Well,” I began. “I can certainly say that I’ve never encountered anything like it before.” I pause to see if that answer is good enough for him. He gently nods, urging me to continue. “It was... Very intimate.” Of course it was intimate, you brainless twit. He was naked! “I don’t just mean the nakedness,” I quickly added. “It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there for everyone to see everything and judge you like that.”
“See, you can talk about art!” Fitz exclaims, running his fingers through his messy chestnut hair. “Anything else? Come on, you’re on a roll.”
My mind fills with images of bare flesh adorned with tattoos achingly close to my body; the almost ticklish feeling of his hands brushing against my hair; a pleading face looking up at me from the ground, appealing for my attention. Fitz’s performance made me feel so uncomfortable, so confused and embarrassed, and yet it was truly unique. I doubt I ever would have experienced something like that in my old life.
“When you were... you know... doing all that stuff, your expression never changed until the music stopped. You were so stoic and in charge and then, all of a sudden, the lights are up, the music’s off and you looked so... I don’t know.”
“Yes?” He leans in closer, crouching so that his face is level with mine. I edge back slightly and he seems to follow my move. I thought the performance was over.
“Honestly?” I ask.
“You looked as scared as I felt.”
My answer seems to give him pause for thought, and he leans back to give me more room to breathe. He’s at least a foot taller than me so I have to tilt my head to properly look him in the eye, making me feel like a scorned child.
I decide it’s time for another drink and consume about half of my glass in a quick succession of sips. As the liquid warms my mouth, I realize once more that tonight is the first time I’ve ever drunk alcohol. Surprisingly, I am suddenly a big fan.
“You wanna know why I do performance art?” Fitz asks me.
“I do it because it’s completely real and unique. I can do this kind of performance to rooms full of people every night for a year and each performance will be totally different from the previous one. No two people in that room will have identical reactions to what I do. Some will love it, some will hate it and some will just be confused by it all. Everyone has a different explanation for what they see, and they’ll all believe that their interpretation is the right one.”
“Is my interpretation right?” I ask.
“Of course it is. It’s as right as Viridian’s interpretation, or her interpretation.” He points to an older woman dressed entirely in black listening attentively to Viridian. “Or his.” His finger moves toward a scruffy young man picking at the tray of crackers. “Or my own explanation for this little show of mine.”
“So, it’s like a play. No two shows are ever the same.”
“The theater? Please,” he snorts dismissively. “This is so much more than a play. I’m not acting.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“Think of it as a lifelong self-portrait, always in progress.”
I nod, although I’m still not sure I quite get it. How could it be called performance art if he didn’t consider it performing? Isn’t acting just a kind of performance? I know I’m in way over my head. Then again, maybe I don’t have to completely understand it to appreciate it.
“That or I’m just a narcissistic jackass who enjoys his own reflection,” Fitz adds with a shrug, and I can’t help but laugh. “Either explanation sounds about right.”
About the author:
Anne Whitney lives near New York City and spends most of her time writing stories in her head. When she’s not putting those stories onto paper, she can be found browsing art galleries, watching sci-fi and reading whatever she can get her hands on. “The Art of Love” is her first novel.
As part of the tour, you can win a copy of The Art Of Love and possibly even $50 worth of books from the Book Depository. Just enter the raffle below. Good luck!
Materials provided by the author. No affiliation exists between the author and this blog, nor does this post constitute an endorsement of the author or her book.