Thursday, April 12, 2007


Every once in a great while, an artist creates an image that is sui generis-- one of a kind. You look, you tilt your head sideways and squint, you try to fit it into some existing category, but you're still not exactly sure how to react.

For me, Ivan Albright's painting "the door" (official title: "That which I should Have Done I Did Not Do") is such a painting.

Its dark, brooding subject and its melodramatic title are hardly unique. However, Albright worked on this painting for ten years. It towers over eight feet tall, and it has a level of detail that is, to say the least, psychologically troubling. Albright sometimes painted with a brush he made from one lateral spine taken from a single chicken feather. You are looking at a ten year obsession with mortality and the weight of the road not taken. This is one freaky painting.

Normally a viewer might look at a picture and ask, "Does this composition work? Do I like the color? Is it successful compared to similar pictures?" Such questions don't begin to digest such an epic statement.

Albright was not well known, but he was one of
Jean Dubuffet's favorite artists. Curiously, Dubuffet had the opposite style-- he specialized in spontaneous, impulsive scribbles-- but he was stunned by Albright's door, writing "all the notions on which we have until now based our standards of appreciation of all things are erroneous."

If you are ever in Chicago, I urge you to go see this wonderful painting on display at the Art Institute.



Anonymous said...

I never seen it there. I must go and look! pcp

Nicholas said...

That is one scary painting....
I've loved Albright's stuff since my mom introduced me to it when I was eight or so. Almost all of his work has the same obsessive level of detail and fascination with physical decay. It could easily slide into adolescent angst, but somehow it never seems to do so.

A couple of fun facts about him:
He never had to sell any of his work, since he was married to a newspaper heiress. Pity there aren't more of them to go 'round.

He was the painter who created the creepy portrait used in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), directed by Albert Lewin.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Nicholas. You're right, all of Albright's work has the same dark vision. Perhaps that's a result of his service as a medical illustrator in World War I, where he recorded the hideous injuries of soldiers who had been gassed on the front lines.

Of course, it could also be the result of his marriage to an heiress...

Diego said...

How curious you mentioned Albright's work in WW1. Recently I've read this article
and wondered about the artistic (and moral) challenge these artists must have endured. Ok, admittedly they're not illustrators, but...