Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Ashcan School (pt. 3)

Similarly, in this painting of Dempsey and Firpo, the American artist George Bellows has offered a Realist subject that is painted not so realistically.  We see an utterly dramatic stage picture of the climactic end to yet another boxing tournament.  The lighting alone is like something out of a movie, atmospheric and epic, creating an aura of heightened melodrama.  We see the loser plunging most catastrophically to the ground below—not even inside the wire fence; he has literally been punched out of the ring.  His body contorts in an uncontrolled pose (rather an awkward and unrealistic one, at that) as he plummets into the crowd.  An approaching referee enters onto the scene from the right to further proclaim the loser's defeat with a definitive, downward-pointing finger.  From the other side of the ring, arms raised in applause and mouths opened loud in cheers or protests embody the lively crowd at this energetic and ultimately epic social gathering.  The unfortunate spectators in the front rows of the foreground duck or stand back to avoid the tumbling body.  In the center of it all, our champion, the winner of the fight, having just delivered his crushing blow, stands in a heroic pose reminiscent of the athletic poses of Ancient Greek statues like the Discuss Thrower.  Athletic ability is being glorified here.  The dramatic lighting highlights and silhouettes this victorious boxer, who stands tallest in the painting, and we can especially see his flexed and tensed muscles, red with heat and strain.  Both his failed opponent and he are in complex and nearly impossible poses, exaggerating their athletic prowess and making them appear larger than life, like gods clashing in momentous conflict.  This and the smooth, stylistically drawn faces of the different members of the crowd (who each wear different outfits) characterize the social event as a glamorous cultural phenomenon.  Bellows creates a quasi-Romanticized vision of the boxing match as a tangible or realistic expression of an art form perhaps truer to realism but no less in touch with the theoretical implications of style in painting.

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