Peek-a-boo Effect

By Rick Rotante

I’m not sure this is entirely accurate. It certainly doesn’t explain why people don’t see a message in every painting they look at. Some artists don’t paint any message at all in their artwork. My art is mostly allegorical. I like to tell a story. But how many viewers of my art get the message I think I’ve put there, whatever it may be? Now, if I’m exhibiting in a gallery and happen to be in attendance someone may ask me about a particular work. I tell them about the work and what I was trying to represent; what I was trying to say by painting this pieces in the manner and style it was painted. Many then see it. But, this could be auto-suggestion. My telling them made the message visible. A similar example is staring at cloud formations. They are filled with suggestive imagery if you look long enough. We see many things in clouds – faces of people, animals, and familiar shapes of things. These images, of course, are not really there, or are different with every person. Some look and see nothing at all.

I do believe that we are hard wired to make order of our lives and abstract work is akin to cloud images. If you stare long enough at most things; if you are a person with any imagination; you will see something where nothing exists. Quite on the other hand, I’m stumped as to the meaning of a black dot on a white canvas. Call me crazy!

I don’t intentionally try and hit a viewer over the head with messages. I try to be more subtle. I first want anyone looking at my work to see a beautifully crafted work of art. Then, if they look further, to see something more; to see the message or idea of the artwork. This is what I mean by the peek-a-boo affect.

Now I don’t advocate putting hidden meanings or obscure messages into your work or painting any devious ideas. What I mean is I paint something that on first viewing seems benign and pleasing and straight forward. When they take the time to look they will see “more” – I hope.

I painted a girl sitting in a field of poppies. When you first look at it, it is a pleasant enough work. The poppies are beautiful as is the girl. Simple enough you say?

On closer inspection, you begin to notice just a glimmer of a leg brace showing beneath the almost hidden leg of the girl. She is reaching for what looks like some poppies. If this is all you see — fine.

In fact, this is a painting of a cripple girl I knew who fell to the ground and was reaching for her cane –also barely visible in the poppies in front of her. Now I can stop here and tell you what the meaning was – for me, but I’ll leave it up to you to make your own choices.

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