Art In History Art Blog
In my last post I dealt with the subject of multiple levels of meaning in an image. I realize that there is another way in which we use levels of meaning which I had not even touched on, the way which is most natural to me: the pun or double meaning. This can be a double meaning between the image and its title - word play - or within the image itself, which I will call image play.
I am a punster from my earliest years, much to the dismay and suffering of my friends and companions. The earliest pun I remember (except maybe "what is black and white and red all over?") was the riddle "when is a door not a door?" "When it's ajar". What makes a pun so appealing (to a few of us!) is that we have that moment of connection between "ajar" and "a jar". In that moment, we have the image of the door as a jar, nonsensical and therefore ridiculous.
I use word play in my titles all the time, partly for the fun of it, but also to trigger a second level of meaning or response in the viewer. The image above I titled "Wheels"; very straightforward on the face of it, but also referring to the slang meaning of "wheels": to have a car, to be mobile. Hopefully, that helps evoke a constrast between the unmoving stack of discarded wheels and their former function. I look for the same mental picture of former movement and action in the titles of "Tailgating" and "Bumper to Bumper".
The two main series that I worked on this past year are very good examples of how I use wordplay to enrich meaning for the viewer. In my series of tree portraits, I was always looking for older trees with character, trees that were expressing in their forms and growth scars. For me these always seemed to evoke comparisons with human feelings and actions. I'm showing two examples: "Spearbearer" and "Expecting", which I assume you can attach to the appropriate images. Hopefully the pairing of the image and title also triggers the chain of ideas which the tree triggered for me.
In my more ambitious series of rocks and rockfaces over the last 18 months, I found the same vivid evocation of character and personality that I find in trees. Rocks (a name I never give to ordinary stones) are each unique each expressive in their bulk, their forms, colors and textures. Here I show two examples again: "Returning to the Sea", a marvelous limestone formation on the southern coast of Portugal, and "Building Blocks" a rockface of pink granite in Maine. You probably don't need the titles to appreciate them, but perhaps you do to appreciate the reaction I had to them.
It is interesting that I have not made more use of image play: the introduction of double meanings in the images themselves. There are many examples in the work of other artists - Goya, Picasso, Dali - but they involve combining disparate pieces of reality together to make ambiguous images. I seem wedded to faithful adherence to the image in front of me. The closest I come is in manipulating the reality itself in still lives, such as "Encounter" (which also has a wordplay title) and "Self Portrait with Jewelry Box", which I love for its juxtaposition of two spaces, of the rectangular frame with an oval frame, and most of all the juxtaposition of me with my wife's dressing table. This is a painting with many levels on which you can read it and react.