Sunday, August 15, 2010

Black velvet art and political milieu

Double portrait: the daughter of a musician whose own portrait is traditionally painted on black velvet. One image of the woman is gowned, with chevelure incorporating a horse's tail, the stuff of violin bows. The other image is nude. Its most conspicuous feature is the pelvis.

During the period of the musician's greatness, demotic English delineated him by reminding its speakers that pelvis was a rhyme for his name. Now that he lies unmoving in his tomb, his daughter's consort prepares to ride away in defense of the dynasty.

In his absence, the portrait is to be seen in the vicinity of yachts and roulette wheels. At a further distance, in ring formation, are Communist soldiers, biding their time. Soon, when a treaty expires, the ring will contract, the soldiers will make their entrance,  the roulette wheels will stop spinning, and the yachts, if their owners are lucky, will steam away.

But for now the double image is intact, on canvas and in its viewers' fantasies. As of August 13, 2010, one particular circle of those viewers read of the image in a publication whose editors knew they were sharing an irony. Around their image of the image of the lady and her knight, the ironic editors built a tombeau of words quarried from a part of the world where men still lie in ambush among Crusader castles, fantasizing. The castles are ruinous, unlike the one in the portrait, but somebody keeps inscribing new inspirational texts on the ancient stones, such as, "His reputation in some circles as Vice-President Cheney's éminence grise is overstated, but he did join the call for military action."

And I don't know how to see any of this. The picture itself was once as simple as black velvet. It presumably was painted into existence to be a marital aid within the knight’s palace and/or a moral guide for his peasantry outside. Now, however, it’s visible only in two other ways: close up, behind militaria, or from a distance, at the far end of an irony. Either way, the woman of the double portrait -- one image formed of human flesh and horseflesh, the other built of stone -- has become an illustration of someone else's text and a mummy in someone else’s tomb. In either view, she's only the subplot of a work of narrative art. On her own terms, as mere pure image, it's hard to tell whether she's even there on the canvas.

For what your effort will be worth, however, click to enlarge.


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