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“Portal” -oil on canvas
“Portal” is both a continuation (the fifth installment) of the “Apes” series and a departure, stylistically. from the preceding four paintings. I began it as simply an exercise in painting, and somewhere along the way it segued into yet another set of musings on reality, perception, and the wonder of existence.
The scene depicted is a storage shelf in the room where I taught high school art for 24 years. Cluttering the shelf is a collection of casts and models for drawing, and a cardboard box containing, but just barely, a mirrored ball. The ball reflects and distorts the images that accompany it on the shelf, and it ought to reflect the other side of the room, with me in the center. Instead, it reflects an alternate reality, in which I am replaced by an alter ego in the form of a gorilla.
We tend to think of our own perceptions as reality, and we grow perplexed at the failure of others’ perceptions to match our own, but perception is a fluid and largely subjective thing. Objective reality remains elusive, however intent our gaze, however earnest our intent. The images in this painting manage to look satisfyingly “real,” but the illusion is achieved by intensifying color and clarifying form to a degree that is far beyond what one would actually see in the presence of the original models. I sought an illusory quality beyond the mere depiction of recognizable image, and beyond the capabilities of the photographic references I had made of the scene.
As any fan of M. C. Escher knows, the mirrored ball presents to the viewer an alternate universe, entirely self-contained, and entirely egocentric. No matter how you move the ball about, your own image remains the exact center of this alternate universe. The view from outside this universe is greatly distorted; as images move away from the center, they grow increasingly warped and distended by the curve of the mirror. There is something both gratifying and disturbing about this world we see reflected, which so alters our perceptions of visible reality, while establishing us nevertheless as its immovable center.
A painting, like a spherical mirror, shows us a reality that is markedly different from our own. It attempts to offer a glimpse into the mind and perceptions of the painter through the medium of paint on canvas, which is its own alternate and immutable reality, in the hope of creating (or at least allowing) an interface of sorts with the viewer’s own perceptions, and from the resulting collision, creating a chain reaction of meaning.
I have always been fascinated by the great apes in general, and by gorillas in particular. As a child, I fantasized being a gorilla, and am always drawn to the ape houses in zoos, despite the melancholy I feel at observing them in captivity. Having observed and photographed this particular gorilla in an enclosure where he was captive, I elected to surrender to him my own personal universe of the mirrored ball, altering the surroundings therein to allow him to explore the green area beyond the wall. It’s a wistful exercise at best, but so is all creative endeavor.