My painting of Chet's Diner has been moving along slowly but surely. All the figures are now in place and I've been working on the background.
In my previous two blog posts I wrote about paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli, Sano di Pietro, and Sandro Botticelli, and about how figures in those paintings were repeated to capture movement and/or the passage of time. I've played with the same idea here, putting Jessica, the owner of Chet's Diner, in three different places as she goes about her day: cooking, serving, and opening a window.
My neighbor's 24-year-old son, Ethan, stopped by the studio last week. His take was quite different and futuristic; he thought the three Jessicas were a trio of clones.
A few days earlier, another visitor thought they were natural-born triplets. And someone else told me that the idea made no sense at all.
I've always enjoyed and encouraged the fact that different viewers interpret my work in different ways. Probably the most extreme example happened at one of my openings when a person came up to me, pointed to a painting called Pharmacy, and said I must be seriously depressed to have produced such a bleak work; just a few minutes later another person came up, pointed to the exact same painting, and cheerfully complimented me on having a very amusing and insightful view of the human condition. Paintings in a way can be mirrors.
As for Chet's Diner, Ethan immediately recognized it as the setting for my painting, though when I'm done, the lower part of the walls will be colored differently ... not white but the same red I used on the window frames. The other major difference is that the real Jessica has brown hair, not blonde, but - together with the man's shirt - I wanted to bounce golden yellows across the surface.
Photoshop color study for roughly how the wainscoting will look when painted:
Interior of Chet's Diner:
Chet's is a diner in my neighborhood, built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company and assembled in its present location in 1931. It's had several owners over the years and is currently run by Jessica Fidrych, daughter of the late Mark Fidrych, a well-known pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and a 1976 All-Star. Before his accidental death in 2009, he often worked the tables.
Chet's is only open for breakfast, and Laura and I go there fairly often. I've wanted to do a painting inspired by the place for a long time, and have accumulated numerous sketches, trying out different compositions and different points of view. Three months ago the composition finally came together. Here's a photo of that drawing, surrounded with some of the sketches that led up to it:
A few of the sketches:
I made a large version (35" x 65") of the drawing below to work out the size for the painting, now in progress. There was no change to the composition.
I'm planning to paint the three figures who are cooking, serving, and opening a window as the same person: Jessica, the owner and cook. In some Renaissance paintings a narrative is told this way within a single image, such as in the panel by Sano di Pietro below - one of my favorite paintings in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. - telling the story of St. Anthony traveling to meet St. Paul and getting directions along the way from a centaur.
In my last post I included a photograph of a Renaissance painting by Sano di Pietro, showing St. Anthony in three different locations as he journeyed to meet St. Paul. Several readers wrote me afterward, intrigued by the way the painter tried to capture movement and the passage of time. A similar painting - also one of my favorites - is The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1421-1497). In this composition, three different events are recorded.
Salome dances for father, Herod, who is so pleased he grants her a wish. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, she asks for the head of John the Baptist, haplessly being beheaded on the left. In the background, Salome appears again, presenting his head to her mother.
The Biblical significance of this story - or any other religiously themed work - is not important to me, but I do like the narrative in this case. I also especially enjoy the color and the composition, the movement through pictorial space. And I think it's quite brilliant how Salome's right arm, the curve of her body, and the executioner and his upraised sword, all combine to create a circular movement around the sly instigator of the murder, Herodias.
As a side note, a significant objective of some contemporary Conceptual Art involves capturing an aspect of time: a stroke or shape may be repeated over and over, or photographs may be taken at regular intervals during a relationship or journey, all in an attempt to register a sense of the passage of time. Perhaps then one could say this idea is really not so new.
Another Renaissance example: the second of Botticelli's four panels about the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, from the Decameron by Boccaccio. Nastagio is witnessing the apparition of a star-crossed couple doomed forever to a cycle of horror, with the murder in the foreground and the chase in the background.