Last September I had the opportunity to see the David Zwirner Gallery at the High Line while it was on exhibit, and one of the paintings, Untitled by Jasper Johns, was evocative in all senses. This is my description of the painting:
They look like ghosts. Or more optimistically, souls. They could be women, children, grandparents, babies; crying and shrieking; drowning in pain, deceit. Nature has knifed them with a cruel, painful stab of betrayal. The souls. They belong to a frame that looks like Picasso’s “Guernica” washed over time and time again by unrelenting anger, by a wave that has eroded every ounce of compassion into raw human fear. The colorless chaos possesses a horror that seeps through the sickly paints and sucks the remaining humanity out of the screaming blobs in the foreground. The ghostly forms of what were once living, breathing people are nothing more than ethereal remnants. A black fist of fury smears the stormy gray background with shadows of terror, terror that makes the hideously disfigured life below sway from left to right in panic. This is desperation. This is despair. The shadows are huddled together in the bottom left of the frame; maybe for warmth, maybe for security, maybe because they have nowhere else to go in a black and white world that has stripped them of the life they once knew and trusted. But yet, even in this closeness exists a haunting distance between the Haitian souls. They are literally transparent, and figuratively empty. No closeness can heal the deep and painful wounds fate has dealt them. Black and white isn’t always so terrible. But black and white without human resilience is just pain. If there was hope in these souls, the painting wouldn’t be so frightening. But in this specific point, in this specific time, hope is merely a mad figment of a wicked imagination.