Sunday, July 18, 2010
Frederick Heidel's "Garden Around Four" - a political vision?
Between 1962 -1965 Frederick Heidel was my painting instructor at Portland State College and again for a summer watercolor figure painting class in 1976. The gist of his instruction was learning the language of large color areas and sensitive line. He questioned us on how much the subject should be the concern in our painting or just a beginning to explore paint - a question for each student to answer themselves.
Around 1885, "Garden Around Four", 63 x50 1/2" was one of his acrylic paintings in an exhibit presented by the Fountain Gallery of Portland now known as the Laura Russo Gallery. http://www.laurarusso.com/
This painting made me feel happy and reminded me of weaving and mosaics - two interests I share with Heidel. It makes me want to play with color. For years I thought of his painting as being primarily about paint and did not read much meaning into it other than there were two women at tea in the garden. When studying under Heidel, I had a theory of how broken glass and ceramic shapes could be arranged on a tinted cement background. In Heidel's painting he organized natural shaped brush strokes using extra long, filbert brushes. In a painting with the colors so separated by the ground, my impression is that the subject is in the process of coming apart. In a mosaic the pieces are obviously from something broken and they are being put together.
A painting of depth invites interpretation beyond the intentions of the painter.
Politics today has woken me to further musing. Now I see "Garden at Four" as a vision of the female aspects of politics. The "Garden" refers to World War II freedom gardens. The figure to the right is like Sarah Palin wearing a buccaneer's shirt and a Peter Pan's hat. On the left is a female in a blue striped dress. Her hand has just tipped the full glass of pink lemonade. Her breasts shoot blood towards two hot peppers like two wars on the table. Where her head should be there is nothing but above towards the right is an enlarged donkey's head broken by cross hatches. On the arbor above the donkey party head is zigzagging lines talking at Sarah Palin on the right who is throwing cold water on the table.
The painting of the "Garden at Four" remains relevant although it is a comment on the Regan Administration. In 1984 Regan was reelected and he declared us to be at the "Morning in America". The two hot peppers on the table were Grenada and Libya. Just why Heidel represented the Democrat and the Republican parties as women is interesting to speculate. Possibly because the arguments between them were strident voices of women -- a negative attribute of women.
I am amused by another aspect of this painting. The brush strokes suggest the fraying and the coming apart of the fabric of culture. Heidel did not give me an A for one painting credit because I painted the dissolving and destruction of an urban renewal project that bulldozed a predominately Jewish district adjacent to Portland State College. In 1965 he said picturing destruction is anti-art. Twenty years later he might have changed his mind in his painting of a very incredible vision of America that is a standing example of the beauty of the American political system always looking shaky but still here. It is hard to say if he meant four in the morning or four in the afternoon at tea party time.