Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mister Turkey and His Wife

Here’s a painting I did way back in 1988. I decided to call it Mister Turkey and His Wife.

It has been hanging in my mother’s house for just over twenty years and she loves it.

I have never shown it to the world until now. It was the last one I ever did along these lines up until now.

It ties together two running themes in my work back then that I only really noticed after giving a lot of thought to what I was up to in those days. One is the exploration of animals, sometimes figures, in unexpected places – like pigs in the lounge, horse statues in the sea, a pig at the dining table, and so on. The other was playing with famous works of art and using them as a backdrop for my strangely placed figures.

I did a couple of very large charcoal drawings – these were the first of these and give a hint to where I was going art wise. One is of strangely sized, unexpected figures in a landscape based on a famous painting by El Greco, the other is also strange figures – inspired by ancient Greek statues set in a landscape based on a work by Goya.

‘MisterTurkey and His Wife’ encompasses all of this – animals in a place you would not expect them, the place itself based on a famous painting by Jan Van Eyck often known as The Marriage of Arnolfini and His Wife. The animals too are much bigger than you would expect, I often deliberately change the scale in my paintings to further intrigue you and emphasize the idea that they do not belong in the setting in which I put them.

Yet at the same time, I try to keep the portrayal realistic, I want you to believe in what you are seeing. Yet we both know it’s not real – but I want to amuse you and at the same time make you want to know why.

Am I making fun of the Van Eyck painting?

I am certainly being very playful with it, maybe it’s a subconscious response to the way we elevate famous works of art. Do I think Mr Arnolfini is a turkey and his wife a chicken? No, not really, but I also know that it could and probably would be seen as such.

Perhaps that is part of the humour – just think – why a turkey and a chicken – I could have placed much more impressive animals. Would a lion and a tiger receive a different response? Undoubtedly.

I am often drawn to the mundane – I like to elevate in a work of art that which you would not often expect to be elevated – so it’s chickens, turkeys and pigs all the way.

I do this in landscape too, I often select a simple thing and elevate it by painting it with care and attention. This is why The Walk series is so appealing; it’s just scenes of “down the road” – a tree outside a cluster complex, a path leading to a dustbin and so on.

With the Mister Turkey painting , I am taking a great work of art, depicting a person who sees himself and his wife as important enough to warrant a commissioned portrait and thus elevating themselves, and replacing them with the mundane. So you could say I am reducing that which was elevated.

Interestingly, I understand my painting more now than when I first painted it, perhaps it is the distance of years that helps me see the big picture, or maybe I am just older and wiser.

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