Under the way things go, coming across a mention a year ago at the Althouse blog of a book that had just been published prompted me to order a hard copy. And that resulted in, How to be an Artist, by Jerry Saltz, arriving to reside in my art studio as part of a stack of books I randomly pick up to read before I begin painting. It’s also how the photo a-TOP this post came to be here as part of my ongoing Considerations of Unfairness, stirred by a recent post on the subject at Levity.
On the Good Friday before Easter (and the Advent of the Second Great Comment Shutdown at the Motherblog), I happened to sit down in the afternoon (after reading TY’s post on Unfairness as the Word of the Day) to open the Saltz book to a chapter entitled, “Picasso and Matisse at the Border”. In doing so I was exposed to something I hadn’t seen before, which involved the two different approaches to borders revealed by those two artists in their paintings. In Saltz’s words, subjects in Picasso's paintings “don’t run off the canvas. His figures and faces aren’t cut off. Almost every shape, body, plane, line, breast, anus, face, or form he painted fits within the four sides of the canvas.
His friend and rival, Henri Matisse followed no such classicism. In his paintings "legs and feet go off canvases, heads are cropped willy-nilly, elbows are cut off. Patterns shoot right past the edges of his work.”
Also mentioned was the painter Eric Fisch (whose work I hadn’t seen before), who describes “heaven” and “hell” compositions like this: “In heaven compositions, things are orderly, homogeneous. Priority is given to the whole over the parts. Hell composition is marked by chaos; it’s emulsifying, broken, textural and it can veer to extremes.”
Curious as to what types of compositions Fischl put together and painted, I looked him up on my phone to find numerous paintings of differently sized men and women in differently sized bathing gear, before landing on the painting posted at the head of this post. And when I did, I sat there sort of stunned for a moment. I felt intrigued and amazed, and a smile of wonder started to form as it dawned on me, I’d landed on an unusual and unique representation of unfairness that covered (and uncovered) a whole lot of ground! Ground that extended beyond the more obvious young to old man comparisons, and the loss of standing, vitality, potency and naivete that life and time (as evidenced by the worn watch?) can bring.
Painted in 2016, and entitled “Late America” that painting by Fischl was part of a collection supposedly done to invite awareness, or perhaps skewer or provoke a response regarding Trump- era Privilege. Five years later, when looked at in light of what’s transpired to bring us to 2021, an even later view of America can be considered with a touch of irony . Making me wonder what can be seen inside the border and what might be standing outside the border? A female Secret Service agent? A nippy dog? A seemingly endless line of undocumented immigrants awaiting for their chance to clip more hedges, straighten more pool chairs, or serve as paid-under-the-table care givers to children with teddy bears?
I had fun with this painting, enjoying the opportunity to consider the way one artistic representation can serve multiple purposes. And I wondered, "What do others see happening? What thoughts and/or feelings might this scene provoke or bring up today with regard to Late America in 2021?"