Okay, this one leans back a little more toward allegory. This is called “Jerk in a Field” (36 × 29) and I was thinking of our very voyeuristic tendencies as humans – at least as entertainment goes. All those shows with people getting rejected and “voted off” while the rest of us tune in to study the face of the person being humiliated at the moment they’re being humiliated. That’s my impression of it at least. I don’t know if it’s more sick or more boring but the part of it all that does fascinate me is that it depends on some very deep, natural traits we have as social creatures. We are built to respond to hierarchy but taught to not always engage it. So it becomes maybe a kind of fetish.
So I’m not quite sure exactly what I was planning here. I just know that it worked when I hit it. And it was quickly needed for a show so I simply photographed Tom Miller in the light of my porch and gave him a Corona to work with. I definitely wanted a kind of “frat” thing going on here too – a kind of pseudo-erudite presence. And the twister is, like in a lot of my other paintings, “over there.” Almost as if it were on t.v.
Now – two other very important elements here are that dog (very much lifted off of the horse in A. Pinkham Ryder’s Race Track painting) and the other beer bottle on the ground. To me these are hugely abstract considerations in that they activate and make steps to the distant spectacle. This would be a very clumsy painting if there were not these “rest stops” between human and funnel cloud. Those two tiny elements were painted over a few times until they settled in. That bottle moved around quite a bit until it finally ended up in the right place. In fact, it was completely horizontal at one point and looked as if to block and section off our foreground and background from one another.
Also, the dog bridges back to front by literally crossing over from bottom to top. It is very subtle but look at how his ears stick up into the sky. Again, very intentional.
And the road leading somewhat toward the distant features on the far right was also very important in bridging front to back. The middle ground of this whole painting kicked my butt way more than the figure or storm. Look for instance at how the road and bottom of the cloud deck converge toward the right. Think of how static things would be if that road started on the lower right and rose to the left – that would suck. Look too at how the open triangle created by the divergence of road and cloud deck “open” in the direction toward which this figures gazes. All VERY intentional because I had to paint my way out of this one like a puzzle.
Look too at the little piece of cloud “scud” hanging in the air to the left of the funnel – maybe the tornado’s “beer bottle.”
And last but not least is the central, converging composition. The tornado enters from above, somewhat cropped, and calls for my figure to be cropped – one main element of the painting is heading down while the other, the figure, heads “up.”
Here is what critic Kim Russo in Santa Fe wrote about in as part of an exhibit there. And I think she pretty much got it: There is also a quote from me that sounds half way intelligent.
John Brosio’s work “Jerk in a Field” is a poignant human comedy. A man drinks a beer while he passively watches a tornado heading his way. The message (trouble is on the horizon, and we are absurdly partying down) is what sticks in the viewer’s mind. The realistic style of the work keeps the message from being abstract; copying nature is not what the painting is about. In his artist’s statement, Brosio writes, “I tend to think of my work as more allegorical than anything, often calling juxtaposition into play, grabbing for what is “larger than life” and exploring its role in modern American identity. It is this identity which fascinates me, our increasingly constant — maybe even numb — relationship to the overt and extreme which drives the work. And the challenge for me, the fun, is an exploration of how to anchor a choice of visually allegorical elements — often seemingly disparate — into the truly inevitable relationships they actually are.”
It’s kind of funny. He looks like he could be watching a football game on TV, totally unaware of reality.
Totally – we’ll market anything. Even just a few months after 9-11 there were folks set up with and selling photo magazines/ programs AROUND GROUND ZERO! The debris, I was told, was still smoking here and there underneath. Granted, it seemed to be an amateur, bootleg thing but it was there.
I suppose it is rather like standing on the side of a highway watching the forest burn out of control. I admit to doing it. There is something about natural disaster that is exhilarating: the danger, destruction, forces out of control. In the face of it we really do stop what we are doing, and just focus on the impending doom: watching the news, keeping tabs on the local website and alerts. We were once evacuated for three weeks due to fire. It was like standing in a field, just watching and waiting to see what would happen.
Would not you say though that there is some humility in what you’re describing? You’re kind of resigned to whatever will happen. Now imagine folks running around the fire in weird, silver suits with video cameras. I’ll be the first one to admit that nature is absolutely engaging in its spectacle. Storm chasing for me was the same as doing a photo safari or going to see a volcano. I never wanted to see destruction. I mean shoot – there is nothing more violent in some ways than the ocean. I think that the dude in the painting is going to go inside and watch a t.v. show once he gets bored with the tornado. Thoughts?
Having just dealt with an in my face, angry, and I suspect violent, student (online thank God)I tend to not think of the tornado in terms of nature at all, but rather in terms of the human condition. I think we are all jerks at times – as you say. One can’t be the champion of all causes, though we can try to acknowledge the problems. I’m not sure if your Jerk is willing to admit that tornado is out there. As you say, it is over there. It is rather the “us vs them” situation. Hm, perhaps I should not ramble under my current conditions! Not sure if I am making any sense at all…
I think that in many ways this painting is about how naively and with oblivious ignorance the populace of our planet view global warming and its extensions. Drink a beer and look the other way and everything is just fine – despite ominous evidence to the contrary. I love this painting – for all the reasons you state, in addition to the fact that is is so beautifully executed! Very strong work, John.
Perfect!!! You’ll note that a story about impending doom will sit right next to a story about basketball or child participation in a local parade. All are valid but the global warming story last year was HUGE!!! It somewhat precludes what came next on the ticker tape, right?! As I recall, major major scientists said that we have about five years to make sure that CO2 emissions stay below 400 parts per million (ppm). And if we fail at doing this, “it won’t matter,” they said. That was scary. And even if they’re wrong or off base, other people so far less informed were so quick to speak up in opposition – people without anywhere near the scientific background needed to offer any credible alternative. What a dangerous tendency these days. People think that if their house is as big as that of the expert that their “opinion” is also as equal. Dang, Grady, I really appreciate your read here on this painting.
I’ve noticed in a lot of the videos of tornadoes that people do really stupid things in the face of such a life threatening element. Maybe we are just all jerks to a great extent.
Oh, we’re all jerks. Give me way too much coffee and a shot of whisky and I’ll prove it. But yeah, the tornado thing has become another “ride” for us to consume. Funny, the next painting I post here will go that direction with a vengeance. A couple years ago I watched as one of the “professionals” drove his tornado tank into a twister only to have the windows blow out and cut everyone up. What was great in that video is that we were allowed to see the more learned expert hang back and openly attack what he was doing. A LOT of yahoo storm chasers out there. Reminds of a favorite joke: “What last thing did the redneck say before he died? Answer: ’Hey, watch this… ’”