Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Numb and Alive

Alexi von Jawlensky, Schokko, oil on board mounted canvas, 1910.
This piece evokes drama. Although the woman depicted is emotionally dead, the bold colors create the emotion instead. Reduced to simple lines and stark primary colors, there’s still intensity in Jawlensky’s methods.

The woman’s face is mask-like in her facial features and sickly green color. Her eyes are mere slits seeing out into the world and her lips are slightly puckered with inner-thought. The nose is long and droops with the oval shape of her face.

The portrait of the woman is intended to depict a well-dressed and well-off woman of the ages, but instead illustrates a lifeless form with life only in the bold contrasts of color.

The woman’s hat adds vibrancy to the image with flowers and loud feathers around the brim of the hat. The hat, in itself, is probably the most energy-infused aspect of the portrait.

Her dress is much simpler in contrast. The shape of the dress is just a tombstone outline with a neck stuck on top of it, suggesting it's lifeless nature. The square, possibly lace, neckline essentially cuts off the neck of the woman. There’s no hint towards a sexual meaning in this closed off neckline.

Besides the restraining neckline, there is also the ribbon tied around the middle of her neck which more obviously implicates the idea that this woman is being suppressed or marginalized in some sense. Tied as if physically straining her from speech, the idea that there is a pent-up issue, is made clear.

This piece was titled in reference to the model’s request for hot chocolate, or Schokko. Without the back-story, hot chocolate as the title of this painting would seem ironic to me because everything about this image is chaotically spicy while a title like hot chocolate would imply that the image would be in warm shades of brown.

As a whole, this painting interprets this idea that even in the most emotionally numb times in our lives, we can still appear to be full of energy simply by the colors we evoke, just as in Jawlensky's work. Put in the right vibrant pink backdrop of the world, the dullest red and the most lifeless face can appear cheerful.

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