Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Workings of Time and Space in the Paintings of Archibald Motley

I found some short essays I wrote for a graduate Jazz course I took at University of Vermont - taught by jazz scholar John Gennari.  Since I have not posted anything to my blog in a while, I thought this would be fun.

Archibald F. Motley’s painting After Fiesta, Remorse, Siesta, is a beautiful visualization of jazz.  

It is a painting that reflects jazz culture while speaking to the lonely figure.  At first glance, the blue tones empower the entire painting, creating a feeling of melancholy.  But the eye then notices pink/reddish tones, such as the naked woman’s reddish colored jacket resting on a chair, and her red shoes on the floor. 

Motley uses dichotomies within this painting to create a feeling of ethereality.  For example, he contrasts the woman at the piano with a portrait on the wall of a matador fighting a bull—suggesting a masculine/feminine dichotomy. In the background, a couple is embracing by a street lamp. In the far corners of the lamp post are the dangerous cactus and the soothing palm tree, adding to the abstract and surreal feeling of the image. 

The crowding of images in the foreground while leaving open space in the background is another motif of Motley’s work   Motley positions the patrons who are having a good time in the foreground, very close to one another. The lonely or aloof figures are positioned in the background. 

For example, in the painting Barbecue, the patrons are having a good time at the tables in the foreground.  In the background, the space is more open and only a few patrons dance.  Also framed near the fence in the far distance is a man, alone, looking down with his hands in his pocket.

Motley positions the aloof characters so it takes time for the eye to recognize them in the painting's space. Because the eye is not quickly drawn to the lonely man in Barbecue, the painting suggests that the patrons do not recognize this man.  The man is not only absent from their enjoyment, but seems to be unstuck from the painting's time and space.

Similarly, in After Fiesta, Remorse, Siesta unexpectedly to the right center is a man asleep with his head in his hands. Once the eye catches this man, one has to rethink the time and space of the painting. Did this mysterious man’s attempt to meet a woman prove futile? Or are what we are seeing in the painting is his actual dream?