November 13, 2021
Below is an excerpt from Adam Soldofsky’s forthcoming novella, Telepaphone, which includes illustrations by Axel Wilhite. Preorder your copy here.
Before we were friends I used to watch him, half-lovesick, from a distance in art school. The low formation of academic buildings came together in a pavilion with large grassy flights descending onto a shady lawn. Axel would sit near the top only somewhat out of the sun, legs crossed in conversation with a classmate, listening with his chin raised and lips slightly pursed or pulling earnestly from the little vape pen he was never without. He was handsome, dressed cool, was smart and unpretentious and his work was excellent. The faculty knew he was going to be great and we all did too and there was no reason to begrudge him for it though that didn’t stop some. He’d already had a few paintings in a serious group show and it was known that a well-regarded gallerist was awaiting his final portfolio. I loved his work from the first time I encountered it. It was ravishing and self-evident. You knew it was the real thing, and by implication you knew your own work was not, which stung but what could you do? You could still have a career, maybe just not a memorable one.
We didn’t have a class together until our final semester. The professor was a rather important Conceptualist. She would only allow for “description” during crits and under that principle said a lot of cruel and unflattering things without seeming to realize just how cruel and unflattering, which could be funny if you weren’t too far up your own ass, which most of us were, so we suffered when we could have had a laugh. At the end of it we installed our supposed best work in the graduation show hoping for some interest beyond family and friends. I hadn’t said much to Axel all semester except to praise what he brought to crits. I tried not to but sometimes I would look at him across the circle of students where he sat and wonder about him. Every once in a while he would catch me and smile in a friendly way that made me ashamed to have been born. Something was definitely wrong with me. It’s not that I wasn’t liked by my peers. I’ve always had friends and gotten along. I usually gelled with my teammates. I had loved and been loved in return, at least as far as I could tell. It was mainly that, for as long as I could remember, I’d harbored a suspicion that I was basically, at my core, full of shit, and nothing that had transpired in my life thus far had convinced me otherwise.
The day when we were supposed to be clearing out our campus studios, I heard a knock at my door and there was Axel Wilhite, leaning in the threshold.