I’m acknowledging the damage inflicted on me by my parents for having disturbing artwork hanging in the house when I was a kid. This was a case of a horrific (though I suppose beautiful) image becoming matter-of-fact and familiar, and not really realizing its gravity until much later. I have a small reproduction of this painting in my office, so I still see it every day.
Growing up, Picasso hung above the mantel, but mom and dad also had this other print, depicting a king, in the basement. This one wasn’t as overtly unsettling as Guernica, but it was still moody and dark. We (my younger brother and I) didn’t know who made this painting in the cellar, but it too became ingrained. Years later, I was walking on 6th Avenue in Manhattan near 8th Street where all the sidewalk vendors are, and amid the tables of old magazines, books, videos and other junk was this same painting of a king. I just about freaked. I had never seen this picture anywhere but in our basement, and hadn’t thought about it for years. I’d completely forgotten about it. But here it was, leaning against a table on a sidewalk in Manhattan. Time bent, space collapsed, and I felt like I was ten years old again. I bought the print (for $9) and put it on display in my office next to Guernica. My own little dark art gallery.
It took a while longer to find out who painted it. It was coincidence. A colleague (who’d apparently paid attention during college Art History class) identified it as “The Old King” by Georges Rouault, a French Expressionist who went mad near the end of his life and tried to reclaim all of his work from collectors and galleries so he could burn it. He did succeed in destroying a good amount of his paintings, though The Old King escaped and now hangs in a museum in Greg Hoy’s hometown of Pittsburgh.
I didn’t realize the full effect of these two pieces of art until another acquaintance visited me in my office, and when he laid eyes on my grim little two-work gallery, exclaimed, “wow, you’re a pretty dark guy.” I laughed. I’m not, really. I just like the familiar.