I hear the thwang of Cupid’s arrow near and offer up my favorite painting of love as a target for today’s discussion– Thomas Hart Benton’s Romance, on display at the Blanton Museum in Austin, Texas.
I’m immediately drawn to the intense turquoise blue of the sky, embraced by the tree branch and her vibrant poppy red dress. The statuesque couple contrasts with the dream-like landscape surrounding them. They walk, hand in hand, eyes closed. The the moonlight casts its spell; wafting clouds swirl to the ground.
I’m again caught up in the depth of the jewel-like colors intensifying this dreamy, atmospheric feeling (almost Surrealist with echos of El Greco). His shoes are off, hers are on. Is this a new romance? Are they courting, walking though a neighbor’s backyard, blind to each other’s faults (love is blind)? Each experience intensified yet dreamlike in the thrall of eros. Their feet don’t seem to be firmly planted on the ground.
Or is this an old love, deep and unscarred by time and circumstance. What they have is beyond sight, a heartfelt soulfulness. At peace with each other. Such that they know each other’s thoughts. The hard work of running their farm, a silent testament behind them. Do they walk side by side, even in their dreams?
The mystery here is the mystery of love. What drives it. What sustains it. How we get it; how we keep it. It’s a million immutable questions that must be answered one at a time. With our eyes closed.
This shimmering textile sculpture, is actually thousands of metal whiskey labels that the African artist, El Anatsui, has painstakingly “sewn” together bit by bit with copper wire into a quilt of shining color.
These pieces are monumental in scale; one was even draped over a building facade. The sheer magnetism of the metal tapestry draws you to study the intricacy of its construction. It’s then that the power of the “weaving” hits you. Like the rich colors playing with the light, I think of many things.
- The painstaking and creative construction. This is a humble piece of trash here. Folded, twisted, made into rectangles, squares, circles and joined together by hand, one by one.
- The enormous number of labels. Soooo many of these liquor bottle labels, the ubiquity of them, suggests the people in Ghana and Africa, are drinking a lot of whiskey.
- The labels are in English, not African languages, so this whisky is imported from abroad and whispers of imperialism and the immense sadness it has wrought on Africa. However this grief sounds more like a deep throb in the heart of this piece rather than a shout of anger.
- This “trash” is transformed. The sum, greater than its parts. We are all part of this cloth. Each one, a piece in a shining whole. The inter-connectedness of us all. The power and diversity of the African spirit / human spirit – a glittering tapestry (despite the drunken folly).
The light plays with the waves and folds in the metal cloth and mesmerizes you. They drape and change with each installation, giving it new life. The light reflects and scatters into a thousand mirrors. I imagine it taking a mystical quality like a magic carpet or a waving banner of hope.