The Red Door, midnight in my Hours of the Day, was the first painting created for the series. It represented a new direction for me, a break from the social-political works that I’d created all through the 1980s. I felt those works were limited by their attachment to easily defined issues of American society. In talks I could nail down their content in a few sentences, and thus kill the work. The artist’s word is the definitive statement. In the Red Door, the image rules. The meaning is left open-ended. The viewer is led down a narrative path, and then abandoned at the fork(s) in the road. There are multiple interpretations, and several layers of content, and I felt the interplay of these made for a much richer and more profoundly personal work.
I love how the toes on the upper-right guy look like fingers. Such a small detail lends more creepiness to it as those toes are right in the sweetspot for eye-follow. It’s also curious that this is three pairs of guys who all look very similar. You see the same amount of detail about each of the pairs of men. What’s up with that? It really does make it more creepy because it’s less like some random dream sequence that way. I would really love to see all these in the series in one room in one afternoon.
I pose for many of the characters in my paintings. I try to invent from there, so they take on other features. Sometimes I base them on specific people I know. I don’t try to go for a portrait at all, but for strong character.
Many people comment on the ‘creepiness’. To be honest, I don’t even see it. I just try to make pieces that excite me, and the decisions I make lead to what these pieces look like. I don’t want the people in my works to look sweet, or clichéd, so I often find myself looking into the darker side of the human psyche for inspiration.
I am embarrassed to say that it took me this long to really appreciate that The Hours of the Day is an unbroken chain of visually associated images, each of which echoes a strong visual element of the preceding painting in the series, starting with the ‘accident’ and pool of liquid in the first two images, the round drum/tray, the act of handing along, and so forth. Very cool. I would have loved to see these all in a room together.
Yes, they are all inter-linked. As more of them are posted this will become more obvious. Moving through several hours are: flowing water in the afternoon, a fish that morphs into a reclining nude, a red blanket turns to the red door, the night cityscape through the dream hours, an early morning river, a theme of work (house building) through the morning, etc. In addition there is some cross-referencing between hours: both six o’clock hours are painted in the egg tempera and oil Mixed Technique, and have a fish theme, both one o’clock hours are derived from the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, both five o’clock hours are devoted to mothers, both eight o’clock hours have reclining figures (male and female). etc.
I have been looking over several of the “Hours of the Day” images, and this one is the first that has really clicked for me. What made the difference was looking over your preparatory sketches and understanding how your sources added up, and also recognizing that you are pursuing fluid, ambiguous meanings.
Also, thanks for introducing me to the Ribera painting: it WOWED me.
Take Care, John Seed
Thanks for taking the time with the images, John. Ribera is an amazing painter, generally overlooked a bit because his images are so dark. He did a few Madonna’s with putti, but his favorite subjects were tortured saints and very unlucky mortals. Check out his Flaying of Marsyas.
This painting has always intrigued me…I saw it when you exhibited the “Hours” in Newport Beach. Your preparatory sketches and notes were enlightening. I went to Spain this last summer and your transformation of Ribera’s tortured man into “you” was inspired. The “dark night of the soul” profoundly depicted.
Actually, Betty, I reposed myself as both the characters in the Ribera, but only made the torturer look like me. The poor tortured soul is probably some father figure. I’m a Freudian mess!