In an updating of Max Beckmann’s painting, The Night, an American family suffers through a sit-com after working through an evening meal of McDonald’s take-out. Mom pops a pill, while Dad puts an all too loving arm around his little girl. The boy twists his militaristic transformer toy, while the dog steals a french fry from the table.
When I looked at this painting for first time in the late 80’s I shivered. Now 20 years later I almost cry. This is a masterpiece and one of my favorites, if not my favorite, painting by Hess, a true American master.
Thank you, Santiago. I wonder what it would look like if I painted a version of it today?
Mr. Santiago Pozo: It absolutely is. IMHO it has all the little aspects that make a painting a masterpiece. I too share the same feelings as you.
Mr. Hess: your comment “I wonder what it would look like if I painted it today.” has drivin me to start analyzing an interpretation of it myself. I want to make a work, same size, going to call it “The Morning”.. . It will have meaning related to “The Night”.
Mesmerizing Scott. The perspective is haunting, compelling. I’m pulled in three directions out of the squalor into the triptych of the tv/kitchen/view out the window. The view from the window, especially from the “lunar” lamp shade to the sign/moon over the building. I’m not sure exactly why, but the view out the window makes me think of John Sloan’s city views. Is it an old factory? I want to go there…pre-Mickey D time. Quite nostalgic really. Like Joe I could stare at this for an hour.
Jerry, I thought of the building outside as one of the multitude of 80s Post-Modern apartment buildings. The were popping up everywhere were built on the cheap, with a veneer of trendy coloring to make them appear appealing. The reminded me of Soviet style mass architecture.
Scott, this is the piece that introduced me to you. I saw it in an art fair at the LA convention center back in ’88 or so, when i was a painting student at Otis. I stared at it for an hour until my friends dragged me away. I was awestruck. This was the kind of painting i wanted to learn, but no one at Otis was teaching it, sadly. This was sort of the beginning of my disillusionment with art school, or art school as it was then. All i wanted to learn was technical, and all they wanted to teach was expression and theory. I wound up having to figure out a lot of that on my own, and with some help from an older painter who took me under his wing. Anyway, this piece was a big inspiration to me, as was the Max Beckmann one, which, by the way, I also did a version of. Mine was nowhere in the league of yours. I mercifully destroyed it long ago.
Many art schools seem to be a waste of time, though you can usually find a few good people in any one of them. Usually there are internal conflicts that prevent a serious figurative student from carrying out the sort of learning that is necessary to produce accomplished figure painting. Most in my generation had to teach themselves the nuts and bolts of the trade, but these days there are many more places to go to get the skill set.
I remember those Art Fairs. I’ve always hated them. It is sort of like watching sausage being made. The raw business side of art, exposed. I’m glad it had a positive effect on you, Joe!
One of my favorites, the use of the TV light as a keylight- the dreamlike perspective for the viewer for me is a slightly surreal element that makes the painting more forcefully realistic.
This is just an unbelievable painting. I have never seen anyone paint with so much insightfullness. The angles you use lend so much to the appreciation because I feel like a fly on the wall. Everything is so familiar, yet so horrifyingly grotesque. The girl in her underwear is so damn powerful in the middle of this painting. I’m just blown away.
Thanks, Leslie. I did painting after painting at this angle, trying at times to induce vertigo in the viewer, or here to increase the claustrophobia. It worked well, but eventually I tired of it and only use it occasionally now.
This is fantastic. I just love how many layers you use for your content. You’re my favorite living painter, Scott. So, here’s what I see. A dining room that isn’t a real dining room (the real dining room is RIGHT THERE). A (sitcom) family that isn’t a real family (the real family is RIGHT THERE). A (junk) meal that isn’t a real meal and there is no real meal. A moon that isn’t real and there is no real moon. Wasting electricity in the next room. Channel 13 on the TV. Newspaper touting the essentials of junk food as the ‘key to college’? The impropriety of a pre-pubescent girl lounging in her underwear. [But are both plants real?] Anyway, either way, I just love it. It just says so much about society. It’s like a sad political cartoon that could win a Pulitzer. It just SCREAMS: Junk! Fake! Waste! SAD! DOOMED!
I think the only things in your list that I didn’t think about were wasting electricity (I don’t remember worrying about it in the 80s, but maybe it was the norm) and the college – junk food connection (which I like). The latter is accidental as I took a USA Today and painted what I saw. I do think this is my quintessential “Hess Painting” from the 80s. It is opening up a side of LA that wasn’t usually exposed, and now seems very obvious. It was my Viennese experience that opened it up to me.
Scott, you have really distilled American Realism here. There are so many ingredients for nightmares and for questioning how we fail to communicate, feed on media, etc. EXCELLENT painting!
Thanks, Grady. I was a real student of the effects of media in those days, so it was foremost in my mind when I put pieces like this together. Even today I enjoy rapidly scanning through television programs to get a sense of where the culture is at, though it isn’t as reliable an indicator as it was due to the growing influence of the internet.
F. Scott Hess (b. 1955)
oil on canvas
84 × 104 inches
Peter Norton Family Foundation