You can see the drawing — "Bridge No. 114" — and read about the creation of Nat Tate by writer William Boyd here.
It all started in 1998. I was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, then a very classy and influential art quarterly, and one day in a meeting the editor of the magazine, Karen Wright, wondered out loud if there was a way we could introduce some fiction into the mix of artists' profiles, exhibition reviews and general essays in which the magazine specialised. I don't know what made me speak out but I said, without really thinking: "Why don't I invent an artist?" And so Nat Tate was born.So Boyd wrote his story, making Tate an Abstract Expressionist who gets depressed about his art after meeting Picasso* and ends up burning all his artwork and committing suicide.** Boyd allowed his fictional story to be published as a glossy art book with illustrations of artwork, and it was presented as if it were about a real artist. That it, it was a joke — the launch party was on an April Fool's Day 1998 — or, if you prefer, a hoax. People fell for it. The truth was revealed. Boyd professes himself hurt that it was called a hoax and not a joke. (Contemplate the hoax/joke distinction.)
Dogged by the accusations of hoax, Boyd conceived closure:
If this fictional artist could sell an artwork for real money then the Nat Tate story would have reached some kind of apotheosis and consummation. So I "found" another Nat Tate drawing – one from his famous bridge sequence... Sotheby's had form when it came to selling art by fictional artists, having successfully auctioned a Bruno Hat painting some years previously. Hat was a spoof artist that a group of bright young things had invented in 1929 and staged an exhibition of his work in a London town-house.... Hook consulted with colleagues and in due course I was told the sale was on...Presumably, the form attends to all the incipient legal issues. If you go looking for closure, you surely don't want to touch off litigation. But the notion of closure is also fictional, no? I hadn't remembered the 12-year old story, and now I'm propagating it.
Actually, I like the idea of a fictional artist, and the artwork itself is real. (I've read "The Recognitions" by William Gaddis — "a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake.") In the blogosphere, boring, humorless people express outrage when pranksters and artists experiment with "sockpuppets." It's too hard to play in this complex world we've made for ourselves. (Why did we go to all this trouble to exclude play?!)
But Boyd duly anticipates outrage. The proceeds from the sale of "Bridge No. 114" will go to a charity. Artist's Benevolent Institution. Wouldn't it be funny if that the name of William Boyd's bank account? No, you're not laughing? You're one of the killjoys!
*And Braque. Seriously, why kill yourself over Braque? What cherry on the top of a depression sundae is Braque? I'd have to read the book to tell you. There, I just bought the book. I'll tell you later. You, the 2 people who read this blog and want to know how Braque augmented Picasso in the emotional arc toward a fictional suicide.
** He uses the same suicide method — jumping off the Staten Island ferry — used by Spalding Gray. I hope Gray didn't read this book, looking, perhaps for inspiration.
ADDED: From Boyd's book:
... Nat felt vastly more at ease with Braque than with Picasso and gladly accepted when Braque offered to show him around his studio. Braque was then reworking his painting La Terrasse, which he had begun some eleven years earlier, a fact that Tate found astonishing, not to say incomprehensible. He was also deeply moved and captivated by some of the smaller elongated landscapes and seascapes in the studio. Apparently Tate ventured the opinion that they reminded him of van Gogh’s late landscapes. After gently correcting Tate’s pronunciation (‘Van Go? Non, mon ami, jamais’), Braque commented that he ‘regarded van Gogh as a great painter of night.’ The observation seemed to trouble Nat unduly, as if it was prophetic or gnomic in some sinister way... There is a photograph of the fête champêtre that Nat and Barkasian had with Braque and his family and friends during that visit, taken by Barkasian, one assumes, as he is absent from the picture. Braque himself sits at the centre of the table, dappled with autumn sunshine, while the women of the household fuss over the food and the placement. Nat stands close to the master, on his left, a plate in his hand, almost as if he is about to serve him. But his gaze is unfocused, he looks out of frame, at something in the middle distance, or perhaps just lost in his darkening thoughts. Nothing would ever be the same again.So what was it about Braque that could drive you to suicide? His douchebag pronunciation of "Van Gogh"? His high school French? (I can talk French like that: Oui, mon ami, toujours!) Or was it the fact that — unlike an Abstract Expressionist — he fussed over a painting for 11 years, and — unlike an Abstract Expressionist — he maintained a calm and pretty domestic life? Dammit, that's it! I can't take it anymore!