Monday, April 18, 2011

The All Too Brief Stellar Age

Perhaps seven years ago or so, I attended Art Chicago, which had just moved to the Merchandise Mart after the previous promoter had gone bankrupt. Most of the works there were paintings, and I remember one particular work quite vividly to this day.

It was a dark, sparse landscape, not quite melodramatic, but tending towards. The time was twilight, and so the horizon was a splash of gold and red. In the foreground, seated in a fairly ornate chair was a very large and rotund man in formal dress eating a cake. He rather looks like Sydney Greenstreet. He holds the cake on a plate with one hand, and a fork in the other.

He's very busy at the cake. His attention unwavering and fully focused upon the act of consumption, and it appears from the look of concentration upon his face, that he is not necessarily enjoying the cake, so much as intent upon devouring it.

Standing beside him is a waiter holding another cake. The waiter is also dressed foramlly, and in fact the garb of everyone in the painting suggests the style of, say, the 1920s or 1930s. Beside the waiter holding the cake is still another waiter, also with a cake. And actually there is a whole sinuous snake dance of waiters with cakes walking zigzaggedly back and forth backwards into the horizon. A possibly infinite number of waiters with cakes are suggested from this, although, thankfully, not done as a vanishing line of waiters.

In the foreground, next to the cake-devouring large and in charge character is another waiter, although by his posture he suggests he is possibly a maitre d or butler. He leans forward with concern as another waiter cups his hand and whispers in his ear. The whispering waiter has a disconcerted look upon his face.

The whole scene done in the kind of improbable lighting that Rembrandt enjoyed using, as though the electric arc lamp had been invented some two hundred years earlier than expected.

I really enjoyed that painting, and, had I happened to have five grand of walking around monies, would have have purchased it. That's how much I liked it.

I happened to be at Art Chicago chaperoning the scuplture class from Harper College. I was, for some reason, temporarily paired with a student who's name now escapes, but who I do remember as being about 80% studied affectations, 15% random mimicry, and the remainder some rudimentary personality. Fidgeting about, he asked me what I thought of the painting. Rather than tell him what I thought, I told him what it suggested to me.

"The big guy eating the cake is God. God is devouring cake because it takes a lot of energy to keep the universe going, to keep existence propped up. As you can see, there are an infinite number of waiters ready to present Him with cakes. If you wish, the waiters are angels. They don't have to be, but it fits with my narrative. The worried waiter/angel with hand cupped to the maitre d/archangel ear is whispering:

'We are out of cake!'"

An elderly, well-dressed, and obviously well-to-do woman standing next to me with her husband beamed at me.

"Oh, I like this painting now!" she said.

I don't know if the couple bought the painting. And I'm not particularly sure what the point of this particular screed was. It just popped into my head just now. Funny how that goes, huh?


  1. Actually, when I first read that i thought of Oil companys. Everyone is represented by the cake eating man, our comsurmerism, our hunger for resources. The waiters are companies giving us what we want. The butler is saying, wait dont eat so much, youll get sick, we'll run out of cake soon.
    That was my take on the scene.

  2. Hey green,

    Long time no see. Your's is certainly a valid and worthwhile take upon the painting. And probably closer to what the artist intended. But I like mine better (personal bias? you bet!)