April 29, 2014 by Ray Yanek
Yvonne and Magdeleine Torn in Tatters — Marcel Duchamp
I really didn’t want to go with modern art because, honestly, I am nowhere near ready for modern art–and at this point in my art-study evolution, I’m still not very found of it.
According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Duchamp is painting the “floating profiles” of his younger sisters, “paying close attention to their distinctive Roman noses and their long curly hair, which he rendered like cascading bunches of grapes”. The different style of the profiles and the placement across the canvas “recall the torn or cut up pieces of paper that Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque used in their Cubist collages, as Duchamp humorously alludes to in the title, which suggests that his sisters have been similarly ‘torn in tatters’”.
That’s interesting idea, but Duchamp’s painting caught my eye for a couple of other reasons–not the least of which was the fascinating title that could be a really cool book name. Really though, what fascinates me about this painting is the way it literally jerks your eye around the canvas.
The profile on the right of the painting seems to point left towards the mouth of the larger profile. It’s at that point were my eye feels pulled, or torn maybe, across the canvass.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art says that there are only four profiles, two for each sister, but looking at the lower and almost dead center quadrant of the canvas, I swear I see the chin, thin lips and long nose of an elderly woman. She appears to have a rounded cheek off to the right of her nose as well, and when you focus on that ‘cheek’ section your eye is jerked back to the right because you realize the cheek is really a the mouth that we had seen in the first place.
You follow all that?
Then there is the dark area between the lips and the nose of the right hand profile. Looking at that area literally makes my head ache because I ‘feel’ like I should be seeing yet another face in there, but try as I might, I can’t. Adding to that effect is the other dark colors around that section and the nose that is out-of-place, or in a strange position to the mouth.
And then my gaze is jerked again towards the eye of that larger profile. The shadowing around the eye makes it appear as if the eye is looking forward, but if you look at the eye itself and the position of the nose, you think profile again.
Then I’m pulled back to the mouth that shouldn’t be there and the circle starts all over again. It’s rather maddening…
Part of me wonders if Duchamp meant for the painting to jerk your eye around and basically give the viewer motion sickness, or if the thin line of that mouth was making me remember the famous optical illusion I posted to the right, or maybe my experience here is an example of pareidolia, which is the psychological phenomenon of seeing faces or images in patterns.
I don’t know.
But it’s interesting–and it’s making me reevaluate my opinions of modern art… kind of.
Wow. Only one more letter to go!