King Crock

…or Still Life with Despot

This is the first painting where I tried to make a statement. I decided that there was no point in just painting stuff if I didn’t have a feeling about it. So when I read in a book about Cezanne’s watercolors (Still Life with Blue Pot) that the big pot dominated the little one, I got the idea for King Crock. I did not really expect anyone to casually figure out my meaning, though I taunted with my titles, but I enjoyed painting it anyway. Take a look. Is there anything troubling in this simple scene? What are the relationships among the objects, both in function and position?

OK, here we go: This Crock is clearly king of the composition. It holds the top center location, the top of the compositional triangle. It is the only item in the painting that breaks out of its box, in this case the table. The onion is cut off by the frame, and we don’t sense that it is free (the painting is cropped in the scan). The potatoes are not only hemmed in by the table, the frame, and the spilled beans, but also a knife threatens them and blocks their escape. The red gash was a cloth which was a royal robe on the crock, increasing its prestige, but as interpreted in the painting is violence.

All the vegetables are leaning towards the crock, but also all the ingredients are going to go into its belly. The vegetables are subservient to it: the potatoes nuzzle it, the onion, with red gashes, is reaching out a bit of skin, as though fawning or begging. The beans were pushed up towards the crock in their little bowl. Some of the beans are spilled, and looking like drops of blood in a foreshadowing of the massacre to come. The vegetables, inevitably, are about to be devoured, first by the crock, and then by us.

Now, I am fully aware that this is very silly. Still life is a humble form of art, food is a humble everyday subject and these are the humblest possible foods (two of them grow underground), a crock is the humblest of pottery, excepting a chamber pot, and no one actually feels pity for vegetables. I am definitely snickering at my own pretentiousness in the painting: my fancy theme sketched from earth and clay. I apparently spend my time painting beans. But the point is that petty tyrants can be found anywhere, and so can meaning; it is not only to be derived from leather-bound books or dusty professors. Is there anything from which we can learn nothing? And pity itself, which this painting can evoke, is not silly; it is one of the foundations of humane civilization.

I think the primary meaning I find is that there is no tyrant so pathetic that he cannot terrorize those under his power as though he were one of history’s worst. It’s all the same to the victims.

When I look at this painting, I laugh and then I cry.


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