Posts Tagged ‘humor’


In an earlier painting, Untitled X, we saw the use of lines at the very edge of the painting, giving us a hint of framing.  Here, in Untitled XII, the frame idea comes through as if it were the key to interpreting this painting.

We’ve just looked at twelve works by this artist. I posted them in succession and with such haste in an attempt to simulate a gallery experience. When you see a solo show in a gallery you go from one piece to the next, you look close,  you stand way back, you circle around, and you go back to something you saw earlier. You try to get a feeling for how this artist’s mind and imagination work.

Notice that in Untitled XII the “frame” is not complete.  Not only is it conspicuously broken, but it waves in and out of the other elements.  Whereas in previous paintings, the crisp lines were placed on a field of undulating, bulging colors and we could talk about “background,” here background and foreground are interacting.  The “frame” is not separate from or placed on top of anything.  It is simply another element in the painting.

Think of a painting as a conversation. You, the viewer, are half of the conversation.  How you frame the conversation determines what you hear/see.

Magritte comes to mind.  His paintings, as all humor, rely on framing or Magritte-Time-Transfixed_360context.  Here the frame or context is a neat, bourgeois living room, which sets up certain expectations and assumptions. A model locomotive mounted into a fire place would be jarring enough, but a locomotive moving outward from a fireplace—notice the smoke—is beyond all your assumptions about what’s possible.  You can only take comfort from the realization that you are looking at a constructed image and not a real locomotive in a real fire place.  Small comfort! You immediately realize that you love looking at this and that this was Magritte’s intention. You’re trapped, looking at something that you don’t understand.  Sounds like the beginning of doubt and Cartesian introspection. Congratulations, you’re modern.

A Magritte painting has one joke in it.  Once you get it, it pretty much comes to rest.

In Boyer’s Untitled XII you may see a bird or a face, but only fleetingly.  The wit in a Boyer painting keeps ricocheting in your brain.

Painting by Bruce Hatton Boyer, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”


Rene Magritte, 1898-1967

Bruce Hatton Boyer is the author of:

The Solstice Cypher, 1979

The Natural History of the Field Museum: Exploring the Earth and its People, 1993

The Miniature Rooms: the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, 2004












All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) could draw, no doubt about it.  He knew anatomy, for example, and made anatomical studies from human cadavers.  This must have been very unpleasant, given the absence of phermaldehyde at that time. It was also against the law, forbidden by the all-powerful Catholic Church which taught that the body housed the soul.  Leonardo’s curiosity knew no bounds.  He set out to dissect decaying bodies to find the place where the soul might have been located. The fact that he got away with this attests to his tremendous fame in his own lifetime and the high esteem in which he was held.  He was unassailable.

There are no paintings by Leonardo in any permanent collection in America.  (The one at the National Gallery is disputed and I don’t think it’s a Leonardo.)   So, when a Leonardo painting makes it into an exhibit, it behooves us to pay attention.  When I saw his “Madonna of the Yarnwinder “ at the Art Institute of Chicago this spring in the French Renaissance exhibit, I did a double take and paid attention.

Let’s pay attention here. We know that the upper body of the Madonna is facing us symmetrically (1 and 2). We can see that it’s not turned because her cleavage is in the middle.  Her right arm is tightly pressed against her side (1) and her hand is tilted in a way that is anatomically impossible.  Try it. Her left knee (4) has to be connected to the femur which has to be lodged in a pelvic socket.  Now, where would that be? At 3? Impossible.  Does the femur follow the dotted line?  Also impossible.  How does he get away with this?  He’s Leonardo and nobody questions his abracadabra.

Notice the bulge over her left thigh, concealing his sleight of hand.  Saved by drapery!   Once you see this, you’ll wonder at his sense of humor.  Granted, he had to get the Madonna and child into a triangular composition, that was standard for the time since the triangle is supremely stable and dogmatic stability is what the client wanted. But I think there’s humor here.  He’s pulling our leg as he pulls that woman’s leg right out of her pelvis.  At some point in his career, painting yet another Madonna must have gotten a bit boring and he might very well have felt the need to amuse himself.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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