Sunday, December 14, 2008

Haunting Painting, Ivan Albright, "That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door)"

Within a few days of the original OJ verdict, back in the Roaring 90's, I found myself in downtown Chicago with a lot of time to kill. I was in The Windy City to get in-depth technical training on my employer's telephone system.

I neither wanted nor needed the training as I was about to accept another job but I couldn't say anything because the deal wasn't inked. There were two up-sides to my situation. First, the coworker accompanying me was very generous about paying our bar tabs. Second, our hotel was walking Distance from the Art Institute Of Chicago.

The AIC is a truly world-class museum. They house some of the most famous works of art in the world, including The Child's Bath by Mary Cassatt, Nighthawks by Hopper and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -- 1884 by Georges Seurat. I spent a long time staring at the aforementioned Seurat. There is a reason that painting is famous.

What blew my mind was a work by somebody I had never heard of, Ivan Albright. I unsuspectingly walked into a room filled with selections from AIC's collection of over 100 Albright works. I may have stayed even longer than when I found the Seurat.

I was certainly struck by Albright's portraits. I know now that his way of making a subject look swolen and diseased probably has roots in the medical illustration work he did during WWI but at the time it was just striking and, frankly, a little hard for me to understand. The room also contained something that was neither a still life (another mode he was known for) nor a portrait.

"That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door)" is 97" by 36", roughly the size of the front door to someone's home, or the lid to an adult's cascat. Rightly one of his most famous works it dwarfed everything else in the room.

Because of its size and detail no digital renering of it can do it any sort of justice. In the copy above, swiped from the Art Institute, you can get a general feel for what it is about. You see the wreath, the roses and the hand. Clearly, it is a door, not a cascat lid as I suggest above, but I couldn't stop thinking of a cascat lid as I looked at it. That may say more about me than the painting, but there it is.

I love the title and the texture and way Albright composed the whole. This work, said to have taken him ten years to finish, has achieved what I consider a high standard of artistic success. It has taken up permanent residence in both my memory and my imagination.

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