Saturday, January 01, 2011

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do

The Picture of Dorian Gray  (right) | Ivan Albright | 1943 

Was he always to be burdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was only one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself-- that was evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Once it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Of late he had felt no such pleasure. It had kept him awake at night. When he had been away, he had been filled with terror lest other eyes should look upon it. It had brought melancholy across his passions. Its mere memory had marred many moments of joy. It had been like conscience to him. Yes, it had been conscience. He would destroy it.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

All that we perceive is a world of surfaces. The real center is never seen. But it is just that which the artist should strive to find and body forth. I try to reach the essential and to give it form -- to express it.
- Ivan Albright

Albright focused on a few themes through most of his works, particularly death, life, the material and the spirit, and the effects of time. He painted very complex works, and their titles matched their complexity. He would not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities, more poetic than descriptive, before deciding on one. Such an example is Poor Room - There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End (The Window), the last two words actually describing the painting (it was as such the painting is generally referred). Another painting, And Man Created God in His Own Image, was called God Created Man in His Own Image when it toured the South. One of his most famous paintings, which took him some ten years to complete, was titled That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), which won top prize at three major exhibitions in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia in 1941. The prize at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earned him a $3,500 purchase award and a place in the permanent collection, but, not willing to part with the work for less than $125,000, Albright took the First medal instead, allowing him to keep the painting.

In 1943 he was commissioned to create the title painting for Albert Lewin's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. His realistic, but exaggerated, depictions of decay and corruption made him very well suited to undertake such a project. His brother was chosen to do the original uncorrupted painting of Gray, but another artist's was used in the film. Ivan's was a great success, and made him somewhat of an instant celebrity.

Albright was a prolific artist throughout his life, working as a printer and engraver as well as a painter. He made his own paints and charcoal, and carved his own elaborate frames. He was a stickler for detail, creating elaborate setups for paintings before starting work. He was obsessive about lighting to the point that he painted his studio black, and wore black clothing to cut out potential glare.

And Into The World There Came a Soul Called Ida [src]

Something of a writer and poet, Albright gave his paintings long, evocative names: in 1928, he dubbed a painting "Flesh", but continued the title in parenthesis, "Smaller Than Tears Are the Little Blue Flowers." A year later he painted an aging, sagging ballerina whose haunted eyes are clearly staring Albright's vision of human mortality in the face; he titled this work, "There Were No Flowers Tonight (Midnight). Over the next couple years he completed another study of the tragedy of time and lost beauty: "Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida" depicts another moldering Albright figure sitting forelornly at that piece of furniture we have so aptly given the name "vanity".
Piercing Beneath the Surface by Mike Hertenstein

It matters little whether I paint a squash, a striped herring, or a man. The space, the light, the motion, the position have one thing in common -- decay.
 That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door) | Ivan Albright | 1931-1941

Merry-minded artist of ultra-gloomy pictures, Ivan Albright of Warrenville, Ill. increased his reputation with one of last season's most shuddered-at paintings. That Which I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do. The picture Albright did do occupied him for ten years, won a $500 prize at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Temple Gold Medal at Pittsburgh's Carnegie. It is an intricate, super-exact picture of a moldering mortuary door, and show's one touch of life—a woman's gnarled, bejeweled hand. The girl model for the hand posed every Sunday for a year. "She had a wonderful leg," quips Ivan of that which does not appear in the picture at all. The model for the funeral wreath had to be renewed about five times in the course of the work because the wax flowers drooped every couple of years.
- From Time Magazine, 1942 

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Thanks to Shelton Walsmith for the seeds.