Even I did not believe him.
After a few art fairs, he could predict the question by seeing the look on someone's face, and I think he grew tired of delivering the same answer. It wasn't that he was an artiste who wanted people to interpret the 2 on their own. (He loathed purple-prose artists' statements and the like.) He just didn't like unspooling the same old story. If there was indeed a lofty meaning, he hid it pretty well. Either that, or it was a long-running poop joke.
He eventually told me, and then others, what the 2 was about. He'd been honest in describing it as a visual device; as a former commercial artist, he could look at the world and know how to correct imbalance or introduce something new — at least with acrylics on masonite, anyway. When he was working on a painting and it had too much white space, or had subject matter weighing it to one side, he'd paint a 2.
But why two? Why not eight or three or any other digit? "Two is a stable number," he explained. This made no sense until he walked me through it, and this is the best I can do to remember and paraphrase his logic. It will help to look at the numerals and imagine them as though they were sitting on a line:
And now we examine each. Zero is too similar to a circle, and it rolls over anyway. One is stark and thin, and half the time it just looks like a plain vertical line. Three, five, six, eight, and nine can't stay standing on their own. Four is top-heavy and teeters; seven tips to the right and lands with a thud.
Two, though! Two is solid. It curves and bends, yet remains anchored by a steady base. Maybe its shape really is the only reason he chose to put 2 on so many paintings, but I have my doubts. I like to think that he was quietly highlighting the human quest for connection, that basic and near-universal wish to find someone who helps to keep us grounded as we live our messy lives. For who among us would not want to believe in that possibility, to hope that two is indeed the most stable of numbers?