J R's Art Collection
It used to be in the living room under the last painting I'd written about. But now it's straight across the room on my office wall, slightly overlapping my Armadillo World Headquarters poster of Ram Dass. It leers at me as I write.
The it I'm talking about is my 2005 copy of Ann Huey's 2002 painting He Was Quiet and Kept to Himself — the deeply ironic phrase neighbors use to describe the latest serial killer discovered in their midst. The original painting was a part of Ann's Cliché series and show that year at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake.
Mine is a copy. Made by the artist at my request. I wish I had bought the original, which was sold considerably below Ann's original asking price that I definitely could not afford. I'd asked. The pittance it actually sold for at a gallery that no longer exists was a price I could have managed.
But I didn't find out till too long after that it sold for so little. It was worth more — and I paid more for mine — but the gallery was desperate and didn't last. I had already photographed this dark little foot-tall piece, which I thought was amazing. Still think is amazing. I hope whoever got it treasures theirs as much as I do mine.
While I was working on Ann Huey's website, I began wondering whether she ever went back to previous styles, like Picasso reverting once again to his Blue Period. So I asked. And she did — would. Or I wouldn't have this painting in my collection.
She found her original drawings, so this painting is a close copy done three years later. "He Was Quiet and Kept to Himself — Part Two," Ann calls it. The original, according to my photograph of it, was a little darker. Mine is lighter and bluer. The first one was more misshapen and glossy, liquid, almost slick. I suspect Ann repaired some of what she considered mistakes from the original in Part Two.
The fire in the eye in mine is brighter and more flame-like. In the first it's a reddish-gold glint. The whites of his eyes are whiter now, and it may be that the whole painting is lighter, although some of that may be the exposure of the earlier version. I shot mine three times before I got it right enough to show on this page.
The area of skin over and to our left of his eye in the first version almost seems to protrude. In the second, Ann rendered that area lighter with less pronounced shadows, although it's still distorted — and not just stretched.
His other eye is lost in the darkness in the original. In my copy there's light and dark details in that shadow, and though the details are nearly lost in that darkness, it can be distinguished on closer inspection.
His countenance is swarthily slimy in the original. Less glossy and slightly brighter in mine.
Both are noir as hell. Eerie. Spooky toward gloom. Darkly fierce. Art that can still instill fear and repugnance after I've seen it every day of my life since I got it, is powerful creepy. Like the ideas it portrays, this is a powerful creepy painting.
Despite my negative associations, however, I still identify with this villain. A lot of my life is spent quiet and to myself. My neighbors probably wonder about me. I hope I still sometimes have that fire in my eye. I know I still scare some people sometimes, although my skin is tanner and my eyebrows bushier.
Paralleling his distortedly wide temple, the eye with the bright orange splatter of flame is grotesquely elongated (more in my version), grabbing our attention despite being placed so low in the frame and far across the low, wide painting from where our eyes would normally settle, in the gray black hair and skin miasma along his right side.
It is a painting that alters our patterns of looking and seeing. In the optical center of the wide rectangle, where our eyes are accustomed to starting their tour of the shapes, colors and details, there's nothing to hold our attention. Well below and some distance away, is that fiery eye. That lurid, leering eyeball that is the heart of this painting.
His ear is also misshapen, and obscured by what might be a gray tuft of hair. But my eyes give it little attention. My mind almost always goes straight to the flame right of the center of the painting.
I didn't notice at first, but I like that the full title is incised into his eyebrow. You can't see it till you get close. Maybe closer than you'd like. That's when you can see the details of his other eye, too.
The fire in his eye is another bright pun, a vivid warm contrast to all the cold blue gray of his head and the implied darkness beyond.
Story and photograph by J R Compton.
Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.
No Reproduction in any medium without specific
written permission. E-mail J R.