"Figures In A Landscape"

By Sidney Goodman

In an article at Look Smart, Ken Johnson notes that Figures (1972-73) "appears to be a straightforward portrait of a nuclear family, based at least partly on a photograph, and yet a mood of foreboding infects the image. On opposite sides of this horizontal canvas (4-1/2 by 8 feet), wife and husband sit in patio chairs, a suburban Juno and Jupiter presiding over their scruffy, nondescript backyard. They appear estranged, separated from each other by both literal distance and gloomy introspection. Low-rise apartment buildings in the background add a sense of modernistic ennui. In the central foreground, midway between her alienated parents, a little girl rides a red hippity-hop ball, her face downcast -- as though she, too, were lost in bitter thought. Compressed by the low top edge of the canvas, dark clouds weigh down on the group, forecasting stormy weather of the emotional as well as the literal kind.

"A rigorously classical formal structure intensifies the sense of repressed turbulence in this painting: the bilateral symmetry, measured horizontals and triangulation of parents and child generate a Piero-like order. And yet this order is oppressive. The people seem trapped by it -- trapped as well by the social order in which their lives are imbedded. Exactingly detailed realism holds explosive feelings temporarily in check, but the percussive brushwork and bruised color reflect them nonetheless, giving the painting an air of clenched vehemence."

 

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