Me Lighting Lauren Bacall’s Cigarette in
“Written on the Wind”
Oil on canvas63 by 60 inches
Last week I found myself sitting in one of the project rooms at Spangler around dusk. The sun had just set and the sky was this amazing blue color that was both dark and bright at the same time. Through the window of the room, I could gaze across the back courtyard into a lighted project room on the other side of the building where another group of people were working. The contrast of the solitary yellow light amid the fleeting blue sky was beautiful and reminded me of one of the most recent additions to the HBS art collection: Angela Dufrense’s Me Lighting Lauren Bacall’s Cigarette in ‘Written on the Wind.”
This 63′ x 60′ oil painting is located in the back hallway of Aldrich, between the alcoves. It was donated this year by Gerald W. Schwartz (MBA 1970) as part of his annual gift to the school. Interestingly, one of the stipulations to his generous gift was that all works of art be hung in areas of the campus that allow maximum visibility and experience high traffic flow from students. Aldrich, which for many RCs has become a second home, has no problem meeting these criteria.
Dufrense’s painting drew a great deal of attention when it was unveiled earlier this fall at an Art Appreciation Club reception. Of the seven elements of design that a viewer can consider when looking at a piece of art (line, color, value, texture, size, direction and shape), the monochromatic blue, which infuses the entire scene, seems to be the most dominant feature. The artist cloaked the city skyscape in this rich, almost electric hue. The most significant interruption to this color field is the window bathed in orange light that we are drawn to peer through. The contrasting blue and orange work together brilliantly, moving the viewer’s eye from the larger setting and forcing it to focus on this one area.
Beyond simply looking at this painting in terms of its technical success, a viewer can easily be engaged by the subject of the work. The title provides a good catalyst to get the creative juices going about what is actually taking place in this scene, or, more specifically, in the room with the window. As someone looking in, we have become voyeurs-and that can make us feel both curious and possibly uncomfortable. Here in a busy, enigmatic city where some people may feel anonymous and sometimes lonely, there is someone (us!) watching. Big Brother comes to mind.
If you like the way this artist challenges you to put yourself in the position of a voyeur and consider the story behind what she is choosing to show us, you may also like paintings by Edward Hopper who was notorious for capturing slices of dark city life and employed similar color and lighting schemes to evoke a sense of mystery. Hopper’s work can be found in many galleries including the MFA.