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.