Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pink in Red

        Like a tune stuck in my head, a painting keeps haunting me. Since White Linen Night, among all the works of art I was exposed to, from the galleries, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Black Bull of Angola, 2016, from John Isiah Walton stays on my mind.
        Why? Is it the subject? The colors? The style?  The oil on canvas is of average size (60 x 48 inches) and represents a scene from the popular yearly rodeo which takes place at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a high security prison also called Angola. During the event, inmates get to ride the animals. In this painting, the artist has captured a glimpse of the action, depicting one of the facility's resident jumping on a ferocious bull. The bearded rider flung into the air, looks fearless in his striped shirt and bright blue pants. The powerful beast is bucking, teeth exposed, nostrils wide opened, resisting the grip. The scene painted with vigorous brushstrokes is set on a pink background. Upon a closer look, it appears that the canvas is primed with pink. Pink is found mixed with the sandy ground, underlines the shapes of the actors and even seeps through the massive body of the black bull.
        Pink?... Pink is cutesy, girly, fake (" looking at life through pink glasses "). The mixture of red and white does not have the dramatic flavor of the former or the purity of the latter. Obviously, pink is not my preferred color and it took me a while to appreciate the work from Philip Guston! Pink is used largely in Pop art, murals, or neon works. Aggressive at times, it rarely generates strong emotions. It is associated with caring, compassion, love...far from this encounter between a bull and an inmate.
         The artist's bold choice has kept me wondering: how can he render the charged atmosphere, create tension, keep the rawness and the vigor of the painting using such color?  A drama in pink? How can pink become more savage, angry, violent than bloody red? The overall work is powerful with its mythological connotation. One cannot avoid thinking of  the capture of the Cretan bull by Hercules. In this scene, the artist paints a hero in action, transforms the inmate, the banished, the renegade, into a half god during these few seconds of glory.

photograph by the author:

John Isiah Walton "Black Bull of Angola", 2016
at Boyd Satellite Gallery

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