Tactile Galaxies

New Work by Gardner Reintz

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Gardner Reintz grew up in suburbs of Eintonen, a small city on the west side of Vintland. He was a precocious child. His gifts were almost entirely art related, scoring highly in his evaluations but always doing better at Languages and with Comprehension, leaving his Math and Science scores trailing behind. He was free–spirited, disinclined to study, found more often at the edge of the playground in isolated exercises of whimsy rather than playing with the other children. He would do such things as try to dodge the raindrops when it drizzled or make up songs full of invented words like 'dimpwit' or 'stoggerdosen'—words that he thought were beautiful, despite being of little use. His father was an engineer. It was his job to see to the function of things. There is a role for every object in this world and Reintz's father saw it as an obligation to find those roles. When he found a gear his instinct was to find another, and another, until he found a way of fitting them all together so that they intertwined towards a purpose. He had tried to be a clockmaker when he was younger, but his hands were too shaky. His greatest achievement was when he was hired as a consultant to oversee the building of one of NASAs launch platforms used to send a shuttle into space. He was obsessed with the stars. They were the clock that God had built. The planets and the stars and the sun all act together in concert, predictable and stable and elegant. It was the only place that his sense of whimsy was allowed free rein, and the only place that he and his son could share between them without rancor. They did not share a language.

Reintz was well accomplished by many standards but by none of the ones his father used. They fought often and over little things, but there was rarely shouting or yelling involved. His father never whipped him with a strap or rod but he had glances that he used, disappointed sighs, the quiet weapons that were the most brutal sort. Reintz's mother often took his side, praising him for things that he had drawn or sculptures that he had made, and it made him smile and laugh but never left him satisfied. He would bring home paintings from school and show them to his father who would look them over critically and correct the proportions of people or the scale of buildings, under the impression that this was something helpful and kind. One day he brought home a cut out that he had made. It was a large sheet of black construction paper and he had folded it over many times and cut through with a hole punch. It is his first clear memory of his father smiling at something he had made.

Later that week Reintz's father showed him a true star map. It had belonged to him when he was a child and in it was the difference between them. It was very precise and round and each of the stars was labeled in white ink which stood out against the thick black paper. In the center was a wider hole where it fit into a little light box. If you plugged in the box with the lights off it would send out rays of light in the shape of stars for a given season, and by turning the star map, like a wheel, you could see the entire sky unfold. Reintz was attracted to the chaos and the abundance of the stars, the infinity that they implied, while his father was interested in the order of them—the constellations and patterns— but they were both in love with the stories. Reintz's father pointed out the constellations one by one and when Reintz asked him what they were for, his father told him that they were for telling tales. It was not the first answer that came to his mind. In a dark room empty of glances and sighs, suffused with the gentle hum of the fan inside the light box, Reintz's father told him the stories of the stars— the myth behind every constellation.

It was not the end of their differences, they remained creatures of separate worlds, but they had a bridge of starlight and comet dust that they could cross once in a while and meet each other in the middle. They had personal holidays that were marked on a galactic calendar and ignored the months and years. Every time there was a meteor shower or a comet coming through they would take apart their old and giant refracting telescope. It looked like an overweight mortar launcher. Reintz's father would polish the lens and complaining about the infamous 'scratch' that no one else could see and promise to replace it soon, while Reintz inventoried the parts and packed them away according to his father's precise instructions. Along with too many pairs of binoculars and an assortment of note pads and diagrams and formulas and slide rules (for the longest time), they would load the station wagon and drive an hour out of town, usually towards Uncle Klim's lake house but occasionally, if weather demanded, to rarer places like Willow Bluff. Without complaint Reintz, with a rigid orderliness that was outside his nature, would help reassemble the telescope and they would spend twenty minutes going over the bits and pieces, checking to see if everything was tight, or properly loose, focusing and refocusing the lens, offering sagely opinions to one another and recounting past mishaps. If they were early, and they were always early, they would sit in the little camping chairs they had bought at the five and dime that first year, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Out of sight from mother and wife, who would have preferred apples and carrots, they made nearly a baker's dozen of them, all wrapped the same but with different jams and jellies. Waiting for the celestial clock spin and turn and bring them its visions they would pass the sandwiches back and forth, critiquing the amount of peanut butter or the type of jam, asking to try the strawberry jelly or throwing away the blackberry one after a single bite.

When the comet came they would time it's passage with a stopwatch and make notations in a log book that young Reintz was convinced his father been filling out since the dawn of time. If it was a meteor shower they would always count them carefully trying to note exactly how many passed over head, and every time, in the middle when the shooting stars were at their thickest, Garner Reintz would stare silently in wonder and forget to count and regardless of whether or not he noticed, his father forgot to be upset. Sometimes they would go out just to see a constellation and talk about it, telling the various myths and legends around it while Reintz made drawings and maps based on the coordinates that his father would slip in between narratives. For the most part though, they were silent. It was not an awkward or uncomfortable silence, it was just another thing that they shared.

When they would return home it was always late, and they would both be a bit cranky, more often than not with a stomach ache from the food. It would be a long drive and they would have to talk so that his father could stay awake at the wheel. They were not pleasant conversations, always turning to schoolwork that had been turned in late, or towards plans and ambitions that only his father cared for. Reintz would stare out the window where he could sometimes see the stars through the dim reflection of his face. On clearer night he would scrunch it up into foul expressions and try to match them to the shape of the stars, a constellation for a smile and a frown, one for being crossed eyed and another for sticking out ones tongue. Whenever his father would notice this he would tsk and sigh, that very particular sigh, and ask him a probing question about another world, his father's world, that grew ever further and further away as they approached their home and were forced to return to silence, trying not to wake Reintz's mother. Of course she would always wake, and always be surprised at the time, and always tell Reintz to get to bed immediately, even when he was much older. When he was starting into his early forties, visiting for one reason or another, she stopped waking up at their arrivals. She would ask them about it in the morning, every question twice and with her hand cupped to her ear. The pall of silence upon their returns became oppressive and he made a point of being quiet anyways.

On one of the days following her funeral Reintz's father packed the car with a fancy newer telescope that he had bought on sale, a decade after Reintz had left for college. He was as obsessive as ever about its maintenance, full of instructions about where things went and with a labeled bag for every part. When they got to Willow Bluff (the lake house had long been sold) they set up the telescope and ate their sandwiches, no more than one each, made with a sugar free jam that neither of them really wanted to trade for or talk about. Reintz's father looked through the scope and tried to focus it, setting it up and asking Reintz what he thought. There was a blatant smudge of finger grease a thousand galaxies wide on the top half, blurring the stars into opalescent ghosts. Reintz didn't say anything about, nodding ascent, noticing how his father would look into the sky and massage his knuckles, asking questions about old sightings but never making new ones. Their outings became more and more infrequent and eventually Reintz's father sold the car when it was declared illegal for him to drive it; the cataracts were visible at that point, like miniature gas giants that orbited everything he saw.

They tried surgery, and it worked for a while, but there were complications. His father needed to move out of the old house and into a home where he could be cared for, it was left to Reintz to go through all his parents' things and organize them into boxes and crates, labeling them with a precision he knew his father would admire. The light box with the circular star map had been in the attic, inside a crate labeled 'For Garner'. Visiting his father in the hospital Reintz waited for the nurses to leave and turned the lights off, shining the array of light against the wall, listening to the murmur of its fan, not mentioning to his father how the angle was off, skewed because of where he had to sit and where they kept the TV. His father had mellowed with time—but not that much. When the lights were back on he handed his father the circular map and watched as he felt out the constellations with his fingers and told the stories again, just as he had that first night. His memory was as good as ever but he told them as though he did not expect Reintz to know the tales by heart, as if they were not burned into his memory, told often to his own children from various marriages. He stared at his father's fingers, their perpetual shaking increased by a mild palsy, watching how they measured and plotted the distances between the stars the way he had once done so with his eyes. It gave him an idea.

Reintz was staying in Eintonen while handling his father's affairs and had rented a large studio in a converted warehouse. He was working on a tight deadline, preparing a series of prints for an upcoming exhibition. Proofs were tacked all over the wall with little map pins but the job was almost done, it had become labor instead of art and that night he practically ripped the proofs off of the wall. He drove back to the house and went to his father's study, looking for some of the star maps that he had made when he was younger, the precise and calculated ones that he and his father had worked on together. On his way out of the door he stopped to collect a bottle of wine, it had been a gift for his mother when she was still interested in wine and though it had been kept on its side he half expected it to have spoiled. It had not. Shining the star map against the wall with an opaque projector Reintz began work on the first of his 'Constellation' murals. Drinking wine, out of the bottle, he placed map pins in the locations of all the stars until he ran out of pins, even the ones that had fallen between the cracks of wood in the floor and had to be dug out with pliers. He didn't play any music that night and stayed up until it was almost dawn, listening only to the hum of the projector, sleeping on the floor of the studio—drunk—not wanting to go back to a hotel room where nobody waited to chastise him or to give him orders about how to put things away. It was a week before he had finished the mural, making it sure that it was accurate before bringing his father over to see it, to feel it with his hands. Afterwards they sat in folding chairs and his father smiled while Reintz made sandwiches, dozens of them, using every type of jelly they had at the store. There were problems, distances that his father was sure were wrong, missing stars that he felt were important, but they were discussed in the middle of the great bridge between their world and spoken in a language that had grown between them, full of invented words that had acquired particular meanings.

To date, Reintz has made four public installations of these murals, one of which is at the Vintland National Museum of Art. This is the first gallery exhibit for which he has installed them and the first time, in any venue, that he shown his new series which invites visitors to literally climb the walls and engage the exhibition. Gardner Reintz currently lives and works out of Yorkton and Berlin, where he occasionally teaches. Reintz's father Elinot is currently in good health and living in an assisted care facility near Reintz's Yorkton home.

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