Monday, June 12, 2006

"The Double" by Jared French.

"The Double" by Jared French: is its imagery racist?
Jared French was born in New York, 1905. Like many artists who followed European thought, he left the USA and died, in seclusion, in Rome, 1988. French was fascinated by mystery, but moved beyond Magical Realism into a world view that accepted Jungian trains of thought and mythology. Part of the mystery, in French’s work, comes from realism (quality figure drawing) and the surreal. “The Double” c1950 shows this exactly.

“The Double” operates like a piece of music without a key signature…only at the end of the piece, in the Black figure, does the key become clear.

Seemingly, “The Double” begins in its background. From an industrial background a Victorian matriarch emerges. Dressed in black, with a blood red wreath and crowned with a phallic feather, she stands (literally in the painting) for the linking of Eros and Thanatos, sex and death. She carries a shadowy parasol, but its relevance is not clear as yet. (The 8 pointed parasol points to arachnida and spider webs-- the matriarch is envisaged as a Black Widow, a women in Victorian mourning with the ability to poison male lovers). Out of the grave, a White male rises. As Grimes rightly observes, this is a resurrection scenario. If the oppressive matriarch represents how cultural deathliness drives generations on—a forward backwardness—so the transfigured youth, born out of death into life, seems to stand for life coming from the dark/deathly subconscious. The third youthful male (some critics see the figure as female, though this makes no real sense in a painting about Oedipal conflict and son-mother bonding) beckons towards the rising figure, as if the figure is a projection of his nature. Dressed in green and red, full of bloody innocence, this figure kneels. He is alive to the vision, but unable to fully participate. He is swaddled in clothes, at once entranced but bound up, quite simply: over-protected. French’s final figure is a physical Black male. For French, this figure represents solar consciousness. He is a medial figure, neither entirely clothed nor entirely naked. His nature “sits on the fence” between the conscious and the sub-conscious. The vigorous Black male is not shaded from the sun. French is responding to the lumination of black skin (almost as a fetishist) and seeing the Black male as a figure entirely possessed by consciousness. This stands in opposition to the White resurrection figure whose paleness comes from a dark subconscious life without solar consciousness. The Black figure allows a re-reading now of the other two figures. The sallow young man’s hat shows a life screened off from consciousness. The black parasol of the elderly female reveals that she is a symbol which shuns consciousness: she is not the life-giving Anima, but a death force that merely gives animation.

“The Double” is a mystery that uses the Black male figure as its key. It works through an unsettling mythology, however, which reflects the psychology of race in the 1950s. The White male is the cultured self, full of inner life, too much so, and is overwhelmed consequently by sub-conscious drives from the past. The Black male is the natural self, without an inner life, and is a being therefore grounded in consciousness and the present. French does not allow his symbolism to resort to Primitivism and its deification of the Black male. He rather keeps the Black male at a distance, on the edge of his canvas and thought, as a convenient symbol. By taking up the racist imagery within Jungian/alchemical thought, French has created his own mythology, a mythology that creates a startling mystery and an unsettling revelation.