Sunday, January 9, 2011

The most mysterious painting...

El Perro by Goya for me is one of the most mysterious paintings in the world. During a whirlwind trip through the amazing Prado last year it stopped and held me in its trance. El Perro is one of the few paintings that comes to mind often as it did recently. I can see it vividly in my mind with fresh wonder. No one can truly decipher what's going on in an artist's mind, lots of people have incredible and melodramatic theories about what the painting means but they can never know for sure. Problem is that most glom onto one of the many interpretations and don't form their own. Lots of meanings have to do with a lonely and abused dog, why so grim! What sadness lies deep in people that makes them come up with that, perhaps it's true but they (and I) don't know. My interpretation is that the lighter shadow on the wall is the dog's owner who is coming home and the dog hears his steps and woke from a nap, with the darker form along the bottom being a late afternoon shadow. It does seem to be afternoon light overall. There could be humor in the piece as well with the dark shape along the bottom being the form of a plush bed which the dog has been sleeping on (and shouldn't be!), and startled at the sound of it's owner coming in. Or perhaps the dog doesn't recognize the steps hence the slightly startled look of "who's that". It is most interesting that Goya painted it on the walls of his house so maybe it's a shadow painting of his dog. It would be helpful to know what wall and where in the house it was, there is some dispute as to whether or not it was painted on the wall of the second floor or not since they aren't sure it the house even had a second floor. Perhaps Goya painted it to be his watchdog, alert to intruders, and for all who like to go to darker meaning perhaps the shadow is death or more political strife and Goya's faithful friend is guarding against it.

The painting is mesmerizing and frankly far more mysterious to me than the other most "mysterious" painting the Mona Lisa. No image required because I'm sure it pops up in everyone's mind the instant you hear the title. A bunch of years ago I got to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I was shocked at how small it really is. It's lovely but to be honest if it didn't come with centuries of hype and was just hanging on the wall with all the other paintings I might not spend much time with it. What I found much more compelling than the Mona Lisa was all the people filing in to pay homage to get some cheesey photo of themself in front of it or everyone looking at it through their cameras or cell phones but no one NO ONE actually really, deeply looking at it. In any case you wouldn't have much time to spend looking at it close up and carefully as there are huge lines of people that are filed through by guards who must absolutely hate having to be there shuffling people through. I feel for them. Mona Lisa has become a travel trophy which seems to be a monumental tragedy for such a simple painting. What also strikes me about the painting is to ponder how many people have seen that painting, how many pairs of eyes have looked at her vs. how many have looked at El Perro? I'll bet you if I went out on the street and did an informal poll of thousands of people and asked them "what is the most famous painting in the world" to a person, 100% they would say the Mona Lisa. The other astonishing thing when you are in the same room as the Mona Lisa is that the room is full of gigantic paintings but no one seems to bother looking at them! Just crazy.

It is interesting to note that those are the thoughts that come up when I think of the Mona Lisa but not the painting itself. However, when I wonder about something mysterious El Perro -the whole painting- comes to mind.

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