Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rick Monzon: Better Day; Modern House

Compare & Contrast
Though thematically the genre of suburbia unifies these two paintings, they differ in almost every visual aspect within that theme. The serene blue, the calm viewing angle and the traditional house contrast the red sunset, the voyeuristic perspective and the modernistic architecture. But these differences also have a common characteristic: time causes all of these changes. The blue skies change their color as the day nears it end, architectural tastes evolve and, open and hospitable lifestyle retracts to an enclosed, escapist culture. Perhaps, one piece continues the other rather than opposes it. We witness similar tendency in parent and child relationship: often the latter rebels and tries to differ, but eventually succeeds the former. Mutual genes -- the genre -- determine the general resemblance, allowing for contained discrepancies.

Elaborating on the offspring metaphor, and the psychological tension it entails, I would declare the moodier piece as the "black sheep" of these series. The painting is indeed darker -- and I will take compliments for the perfect choice of colloquialism in the comments, red herring notwithstanding. It also appears very private and guarded, a green hedge blocking the view, contrary to the open and welcoming area in front of the traditional suburban home. Who lives in these buildings? Intuition tells me that a conventional and somehow inevitably happy family occupies the house with the visible driveway. But a child who grew up in such an environment will possibly have learned to resent it, and moved into a quirkier, and much more individualistic structure. The protagonist from the film "Donnie Darko" comes to mind; coincidentally, his home was destroyed by an unexpected crash.


The road further brings out the accessibility of the fenceless house, but becomes a literally and figuratively hidden motif in the other piece. Because of the hedge, one needs to "approach" the building in order to try and examine it. The viewing angle positions the observer on the road rather than in front of it, which results in a comical paradox, similar to when someone looks for a hat all the while wearing it on her head. On the one hand, by placing the viewer on the road, the artist encourages her to investigate and explore further. On the other hand, the actual inability to trace the path, prevents her from advancing. The artist plays a pull&push game, as he doesn't want observers to find out what's inside but entices them try. Since this painting represents a single point in time -- we will never find the road -- and never access the house. And, even standing on the driveway, closer to the building, doesn't make it appear more accessible; on the contrary, it only seems more alien. I can almost imagine a closed circle camera being installed and concealed in that evergreen tree.

This is a secretive, exclusive or a "friends only" house -- and this friendship is very sought for. Its kind remains open for interpretation: a celebrity villa for one, it can be a haunted house for another. Personally, I like to imagine the artist himself inhabiting it; a mastermind who orchestrates the viewer's reactions and inmost aspirations. While the first painting projects contentment and self-assurance, the second destabilizes and disturbs. Together they combine to reflect the complexity of a single individual and her inner life. They provide a front and a back view of one's mind, the light and the dark side of one's soul. This is the advantage of looking at several paintings from a single series: each piece presents a different side of the theme; eventually, the series gives a more complete overview of the topic. When Claude Monet embarked on painting the Rouen Cathedral, producing more than a dozen paintings, he strove to depict as many light effects as possible. In this case, the artist aims to convey psychological and sociological phenomena. Ultimately, this series is about the people, the people we never get to see on these canvases -- ourselves and our neighbors.

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