Red Tulip with David, Sherrie Wolf
“This is my least favorite piece,” I said.
“It’s certainly… a conversation starter,” said the desk lady at the Jacobs Gallery.
I’d returned roughly one month after seeing Red Tulip with David for the first time. That was during February’s First Friday Art Walk after my Eugenean identity crisis, so maybe I was in a bad mood. All I know is that something about Red Tulip deeply irked me.
The painting hangs at the very front of Eugene Collects, which proves once and for all that Eugene art collectors aren’t quite as rare as unicorns. The exhibition is what you’d imagine a wealthy art connoisseur’s attic might look like. There are the hidden treasures (Renoir! Dürer!) and then there are the castoffs like Red Tulip.
It’s a great juggling duel between two contemporary styles. Caravaggio’s Baroque David with the Head of Goliath tangos with a Dutch/Flemish still life. The melodramatic macro is mimicked and eclipsed by the intricate micro. Do you see how the leaning flowers create a similar shape to that of David’s chest and arms? Did you notice how Goliath’s massive head is dittoed by the fragile glass orb?
In the end, the tulip wickedly subverts David using tricks from Caravaggio’s own bag. The artist has placed the edge of the tulips’ shelf at the bottom of the picture plane, a very Baroque trompe l’oiel– a trick of the eye. By pushing the flowers out into the viewer’s space, Wolf has declared victory for the Dutch.
I know, I know. I just broke the nerd barrier. I might be dorkily fist pumping except that… I’m supposed to hate this painting. I’ve been frustrated with it all month. At first it was the color of the flowers, which have a lurid red glow but cast no light on the orb. Then it was the territorial composition with its hoity-toity interplay of ideas.
And now I find that this painting is intriguing in a good sort of way. It has won me over, which somehow makes me hate it even more. I love it I hate it I love it I hate it…
I stared down the piece, the poor little desk lady hovering beside me.
“I thought maybe the artist was just trying to show off her skill,” she said consolingly. “You have a portrait, a still life, lots of different textures and surfaces…”
I wasn’t buying it. Sherrie Wolf and I were having a meta-nerd battle, and only one of us could win. Who would be David, and who would be the ugly tulips? I had a feeling that the Wolf was dressed in red. Dang.