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The Tree's Solemn Warning

Student 24's picture

The gallery was full of conversation, dialogue, and dynamic between each and every piece of art. Try putting a bucketful of paintings into one room and keeping them silent. Please, they have so much to say to each other. Compliments, complements, completion and competition. So many voices; it was an exciting hum. But to find one painting, I needed internal dialogue, between the elements within a singular piece. I needed a filter, so I listened to the paintings while keeping a lens of my own poems in mind. A few paintings reached my ears, but it wasn't until I saw a sketch by Glackens that I chose which of my poems I wanted to use. The sketch was of a park with trees and a bunch of people simply milling around. That took my mind to a poem that I wrote, sitting in Maçka Park in Istanbul, Turkey last year on the 24th of October. So I knew that I wanted to use this poem as my filter, though it didn't quite fit this sketch in particular because there was no lamppost. I needed trees and a lamppost. This is the poem:

24th of the Tenth
Do I prefer the black-painted old-fashioned lamppost?
Or the autumn tree, slowly starved and stripped to shame?
Do I prefer the misty beam of yellow light and electricity buzzing, humming, in harmony with the fluttering moths,
the tree’s solemn warning:
“Don’t make me beautiful because you’re lonely,”
as it shakes its balding head.

I continued walking through the exhibit trying to find a painting that had both trees and lampposts, and I did. Maurice Utrillo: "Street in Montmartre," 1926. I sat down in front of the painting and made myself comfortable. I didn't walk into the street or anything; I just listened to it.

It's a cold, still, early spring morning. The trees have leaves, but they are rather few and they are green. There is neither snow nor dead leaves on the ground. There is a lot of grey, white space in the painting, and an unequal distribution of dark vertical lines. A lamppost, a few trees, and outlines of buildings. And there is tense competition. Five people figures are arranged in almost a perfect line, as if traveling an unillustrated path within the street.

The tallest object is the white steeple of a chapel in the background. The chapel is white and is almost indistinguishable from the wispy clouds in the sky. The lamppost seems disproportionately small, but it doesn’t cower. It stands simple and straight. And the people figures. They seem small as well. As if the world around them has swollen and blended into itself a bit.

The chapel is tall, though. So tall and evidently regal it doesn't really seem to be concerning itself with the conflict of superiority complexes between the lamppost and trees, Good Lord. The steeple is at peace and in comfort with the soft, grey tones. It doesn't scream for attention, because by name, it already has just that. The most vibrant and vivid point of the painting is the middle people figure, wearing a bright red parka. It is probably a woman, because she appears to be wearing a long skirt. But she is not screaming either; she is not remarkable. She remains in the linear path of travel, traversed by all other people figures in the painting. She is not exceptional. She is neither beautiful nor possible company for the lonely artist.

After a while I began to hear and feel a hum, spilling over, around the frame; the painting was in conversation with its neighbours. To the left, an old man sat: sad, bold, and heavy with green. His image pulled out the shades of green in the bleak houses. To the right, there was a young boy, whose setting was a dense deep blue but whose skin was bright pink and red that sang to the red in the roofs of the houses on the street. Above, there was a young woman, thick and burdened with blue. This blue stretched the pale blue sky around the chapel. It stretched the chapel and made it taller than its own self, expanding its presence far beyond the reach of any lamppost or tree. These three neighbours, though with faces and strains and weight, still sit boldly and as solid images. 
The surrounding paintings. They're all saying, "Don't make us beautiful because you're lonely. Don't paint us because you're alone." But what can an artist do.