The puzzle is on a high shelf of a dead artist’s studio. I’m in her apartment with a friend, picking over unused art supplies. Her nephew invited us to take whatever we want. I have a pile of watercolor paper, brushes, a Pelikan watercolor set, an ancient mat cutter. Faced with so much stuff, it’s hard to know what to take and what to leave. There’s something obscene about scavenging this way, but it beats the scrap heep. To the nephew, this room full of things is just an obstacle to getting the apartment sold.
What catches my eye in the closet is de Kooning’s Gotham News. It’s a great painting from 1955. I don’t even see that it’s a jigsaw puzzle till I reach up for it and take it out into the light. I joke to my friend about taking it and put it back in the closet. A few minutes later though, I pick it up again and put it with my pile.
Weeks pass. Gotham sits in its box, leaning against the studio table’s leg. Up above it on the surface, some of the dead artist’s things have merged with my own. Soon I won’t be able to tell what was hers and what’s mine. We all just use these things for a time before it’s someone else’s turn.
I haven’t worked a jigsaw puzzle since I was a kid. I look at the box and wonder what possessed me to bring it home. Then, one day, I dump all the pieces on the carpet and sit down on the floor to see if I can sort them. A couple mostly frustrating hours later, I realize I’ll get nowhere down there on my ass. My back hurts from leaning over. My elbow keeps falling asleep. I gather the whole mess back into its box and start over on a table.
The hard part about a de Kooning jigsaw puzzle is there’s no representational shortcuts. No faces, trees, or houses. No cars or planes; just marks and colors. My first strategy is to sort all like colors together. It doesn’t really work because there are few discrete areas in the painting; everything flows into everything else.
I work the thing for days as a break from work. Sometimes I barely make any progress, other times it’s as steady as dominoes. One night I get so wrapped up in it I lose track of time and cancel plans I’d looked forward to all day.
As it gets closer to filling up, I wonder what I’ll get a puzzle of next. Then I realize that if I do that, there will soon be no time to do anything else. Best that this de Kooning be the first and last. It wouldn’t be the same to just buy one in a store or, worse yet, just click a button online. It wouldn’t mean the same thing Gotham News does.
Like a remake calculated to cash in on a surprise hit. A strange thing to think about a puzzle that was likely printed at least a few hundred times, but mine’s the only one that lived in that dead artist’s closet. I’ll think about her everytime I look at Gotham News now. I’ll glue the completed thing to a board and hang it somewhere in the house.
It’ll stay there until someone is invited here to take my things away.