Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ferndale Nocturne

Ferndale Nocturne, by Taurus Burns. Posted with artist's permission.
Tonight I had coffee with a couple guys, one of whom is a local artist, Taurus Burns. Considering how we're acquainted, it's a bit unusual that I know his profession at all, let alone that I've seen his work. While we were talking, I admitted I'd web stalked him and seen the work he's posted online, and mentioned a couple pieces in particular that struck me.

Both are part of a larger series of Detroit landscapes, one of which is entitled Ferndale Nocturne. The painting is of a corner house in a residential neighborhood behind a tree. The scene is dark and lit from an extreme angle, as if from a streetlamp or a setting sun behind the viewer, so some features are given extreme emphasis, the leaves on the tree for example, while some are subdued beyond normal light/dark conditions.

The painting was different in my memory when I was discussing it with him than the actual image, which I looked up again before sitting down to write this post, but the reasons it struck me so well are more or less the same either way. The way I remembered it, there weren't lights and darks as much as whites and blacks. Rather than struggling to understand the what and where of the light source, I remember having a hard time figuring out the actual scene being lit, aside from the bold colors of the tree.

I blabbed through a meek description of the painting, which of course he recognized, and probably said something pretty weak in the way of telling why it struck me, but running through the conversation in my head while driving home, the real reasons came out pretty easily. The experience of refining those thoughts was surprisingly overwhelming.

What I'd like to have said, and maybe what would have done him more good to hear, is something more along the lines of how the subject of the painting emphasizes the difference between what's hidden and what's apparent, and what separates the two. It would have been especially relevant to our conversation immediately before and after my meager compliment, too, but I'm a lousy conversationalist. Even though the contrast between the hidden and apparent isn't nearly as extreme in reality as I'd remembered, it's still true that the metaphoric light and shadows hit me hard, on both the first and most recent views of the painting. As a viewer, I see three major components to this work: the light source, what's lit, and what isn't lit, each with their own personal metaphorical meaning.

The light source is a mystery. It's difficult to tell if this is a night scene lit by a street lamp, or if the light source is natural and the setting is dawn or dusk. Also, the source of the light isn't apparent to the viewer; it's outside the scene, which may mean the artist either didn't think it was important enough to include, or he meant that each viewer should interpret it differently. (It could also mean he thought it should be obvious, but if that's the case I'm a woefully unskilled viewer of art, which I refuse, for the moment, to consider.) The only clues about the light source are the angle at which the shadows are cast, and the colors of the leaves on the tree, which may be a reflection of a bright orange or yellow light, but could also indicate the season; that is another mystery. Whatever the case, the light source creates a vivid contrast between the other two features I mentioned, and what's more, is very representative of those aspects of my life that force some parts of who I am to remain in the shadows, while at the same time throwing a bright light on the other parts. As Shakespeare's Hamlet said, "I am too much in the sun."

The second major feature of this painting, in my opinion, is the part of the scene that's lit up. In the painting, the street curbs and a large deciduous tree are fully illuminated, as are the autumn-colored leaves. Most of the house itself is obscured. Without drawing too many parallels between the actual painted objects and my own personal meaning, I can still say for sure this is definitely representative of all those things in my life that people choose to see, mainly because those are the things I throw into the forefront of their perception. The things I choose to have lit are almost exclusively distractions from the main object: my actual State of Existence. My entire life, I've thrown up perceptual road blocks to prevent people from seeing facets of who I really am: my father's alcoholism, my family's dysfunction, my depression, my marital troubles, my personal failures, my low self-esteem. All these things are terrible and embarrassing to me, despite how common they may be in others' lives, and I have chosen, almost every day of my adult existence, to hide them behind something (anything) that may look more favorable to others in the hope of obscuring my real self.

Finally, there are the objects which are hidden in the shadows cast by the light and tree. As with the lit objects, the darkened portion also speaks to me of the aspects of my self I tend to keep hidden. To lend further meaning, the darkened house is the largest object in the painting, making up the majority of the background space. It is arguably the most important single object. As a viewer, I see the house as being representative of my real self, that which is kept behind more prominent (socially acceptable) objects (perceptions). A house as a metaphor for human being is by no means a new concept, but I think in this context its use is novel and delightfully done, despite the dark meaning I've assigned it through my own personal interpretation of the work. In the painting, all but a small portion of the lower level of the house is obscured by varying layers of darkness, which, again, speaks perfectly to the metaphorical comparison of that image and its personal meaning for me.

This painting is beautiful in many ways. On the larger level, it's a well-created and accurate reproduction of the scene itself. The perspective would be difficult for anyone but a professional to capture, and the light and shadows seem to fall as naturally as if in a photograph. The colors are wonderful, from tans in the tree and branches, the reds of the house and brick chimney, the leaves, and finally the brilliant azure of the sky. Going deeper, Ferndale Nocturne is a great example of solid talent. Despite my layman's ignorance of any true art appreciation or history education, I'm proud to call this artist part of my regional talent, and I hope to see him succeed not just because I know him, but because I think he does great work. One of the things I said to him during our coffee night is that art is a form of language, and this particular painting was created using expressions I find very familiar and appealing. For this, I have to thank him, and truthfully every artist that has communicated with in me this way. My life is made richer, and my emotions more clear, when I'm exposed to such expression. I know in this I am not alone.

1 comment:

  1. first. i have to confess i need glasses. :)
    second. the image is small on my phone, so i swear i saw christmas lights. now we know how badly i need glasses. hehe

    when i really looked at the piece, i thought it looked like sunrise was just breaking. the painting is beautiful.

    i especially enjoyed reading your thoughts on the piece. great post!