What have a turn of the twentieth century poet, a 1940’s gossip columnist and a Swiss/American photographer got to do with me? They took their turns as muses for me so that I could make one of my first social realist paintings.
I wanted to illustrate the callous indifference many of people to the plight of others, but my source for the title of this painting is the “feel good” poem by A.A. Milne, “King John’s Christmas”. This has to be my favorite poem. It always has been since my father used to read from a book to us kids every night after dinner. It was mostly English literature with a lot of Mark Twain as well.
King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.
There is a lot more to this poem. Look it up. King John’s Christmas by A.A. Milne.
So, being a painter without ready access to live models who can hold action poses, (no model can hold an action pose. they can only just sit there) I have long been trolling books, magazines, the internet and any other source for usable images. In this painting, the woman is Hedda Hopper, who was a hugely popular, right wing, conservative gossip columnist fro the forties - before my time, really. And the man appeared in “The Americans” - a book of photographs by Robert Frank, published in 1958. I like the work of Robert Frank a lot, but I don’t particularly like either of these characters, even though they were fun to paint.
I didn’t think of the title and then begin to search for images to collage into this painting. I found the photos and thought “these people need to be in a painting together, and I already know the title”. I think that this is a pretty good argument for the importance reading to your kids.
The photo of Hedda is by Alfred Eisenstadt. Thanks to him and to Robert Frank. I don’t know who the people on the reviewing platform are.