Fall semester started and yesterday I attended my first day of “American Artists” class. I looked through the book while the teacher read through his thick glasses and dirty bangs with a boring voice and a stuffed up nose. I may have to change my class selection, but the book fascinated me. I liked seeing the styles of the different artists and yet, they sure lack vibrant colors! Come on Americans! Are you afraid of orange and pinks and reds?
Half-way through the book I found an interesting picture by John Haberle that got me thinking. I can’t post the picture, but you can find it here. The book said,
One of his trompe l’oeil paintings, “Time and Eternity”, ca. 1890, is . . . extremely detailed, designed to trick the eye into thinking that these are real, not painted, objects. . . [The painting is of objects attached to the back of a painting. Got that? A painting of the back of a painting. It includes the frame, the name plate, and the nails, plus these objects that are tacked or taped to the plywood.]
The cracked pocket watch becomes a symbol of the fleeting quality of time. . . The playing cards, pawn tickets, betting receipts, and girlie photo are the detritus of daily life; juxtaposed with the rosary they are an obvious contrast between the temporal and the spiritual, the here and now and the hereafter. Haberle’s torn, ragged scraps of paper currency also refer to the passage of time; the word GRAVE (part of the word engraved) is a blatant reference to death, emphasized by the scrap’s proximity to the crucifix.
I am intrigued with the photo-quality of this painting. I even thought it was a real frame at first. But I think the book missed the message. First of all, the girl is not some “girlie photo;” she seems rather innocent and reserved—but I do think she comes from a cigarette package. So, I think she represents a good, trusting love, but at the same time, one that is a deception. Because smoking doesn’t lead to getting pretty girls, but to other bad stuff like bad breath and cancer.
So, the grouping consists of “love” (the photo), “religion” (the rosary), “wealth” (the money), and other tokens of gambling—like a theater ticket. (You buy a ticket and hope you enjoy the show.) I think the artist was saying that all of life is a gamble—both here and wherever we believe our souls go afterwards. Only death is certain and our time in this life is marked by the things we take a risk on.
I’ve seen my mom say her rosary as far back as I can remember and it doesn’t seem to have helped her much. Her life may have looked ideal from outside the walls around our house, but inside her rooms, there was sorrow, and fear. Mostly she was afraid for me and my future. So she took the biggest gamble of all and we came to America. Now she is working harder than she has ever had to work just so I can go to school. What good has her religion done her?
Or love? She loved my father when she married him. She trusted that love. It was not a good bet either. It burned up like a cigarette.
I think maybe these are the things Haberle was saying with his painting. It’s all a gamble–and mostly we lose.
Then I started to wonder what was painted on the other side of where these objects hung? What was the reality—not the lies hidden behind the picture? I imagined it was a portrait of my mother, as the woman who was misled. I figured the pawn ticket redeems her dreams that she sold to protect me.
Wow, that was one downer post! I think I will put away this art book and go shopping. I always feel much better afterwards. Oh, I just got a text from D. He’s wondering if I am available for lunch? Of course I am! I can go shopping tomorrow. Maybe I’ll buy a lottery ticket then too, or go see a priest.