Hector of the Living Artwork

Dec 2022

(Based on this previous essay. It’s one of the short stories I’m happy with)



“If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by.”

F. Burton Howard


 “The wise remind themselves that ‘This too shall pass’ even when things are good; the foolish, only when things are bad.”

― Mokokoma Mokhonoana


The man was called Hector, of the wandering heart but wealthy as his family left him a sizeable fortune. He stood poised over a chair as an artist sat painting the man. This is how each day began, Hector would wake and carry on the day as an artist painted him at a given moment. Sometimes at the beginning during breakfast sometimes at the end by the sunset and sometimes for no artistic reason whatsoever.

Once when Hector was little and first discovered what death was, he became scared and very sad. So sad he wrote a long letter to his parents and hid it in a safe place for them to find in case he ever passed away. That way when he died, they would read it and it would be like he was still there. Like he had never left.

Hector was obsessed with paint, with any lasting medium. He would try to encapsulate his entire existence in the microcosm displayed on a canvass. He wished for his life to be a moving artwork and in vain hope he would try to capture his entire life in art, every age, every moment in paint. Each day a new painting would be made and Hector would scrutinise it and speak to it as if it were an extension of his own soul.

Critics rose to judge his life – A temple to his ego, the arrogance of human conceit. But they never understood. He was a man gripped with fascination, not because he saw himself as beautiful though he was a handsome man. He was fascinated with himself for he had travelled many and far and had read much and came to the conclusion that nothing else is worth seeing, but he did not love his own image. He was simply a man fascinated with mankind, specifically a person who happened to be himself.

Fascinated by every new line, by each new emotion that showed on his forehead. Hector did not know himself very well so he would sit by each new painting and think about what the picture showed. What hidden self realisation would he find in the analysis of the self.

For many years this continued, until the end of his life. A painting of Hector was witness to his passing and he could’ve sworn the painting winked as he collapsed. At his death, the paintings were donated to museums and art galleries in places. Parts of Hector went scattered across the world – And he would be remembered as Hector of the living artwork. Generations would speak of his madness and his genius, the only true artist who ever lived, a man who dedicated himself to a craft he did not understand. But what Hector failed to realise was his life was wasted in searching for himself. Searching for something that need not be found. He was lost.

Poor poor Hector.

The paintings hung in glorious palaces, impressive galleries and halls, but soon grew old and dated so became of little value and returned to their birthplace. Near the end of his life, after the public had little curiosity left, the artist who had spent his life painting Hector was left with thousands of canvasses of a man no longer alive. He had no place to store such a work. The artist sighed with wisdom in his eyes and burnt it all, burnt the life of Hector of the living artwork.

But one. One painting would remain of Hector buried in a storeroom in a house long abandoned. A painting of Hector as a child, playing in a garden, tears of happiness in his eyes and a smile.

A painting made by his parents. Laying next to the painting is a long letter written by a sad and scared young child… a letter by Hector of the living artwork.