Consider this my version of Ivan Albright’s “That which I should have done but did not do (The Door)”–although this one was the fruit of an afternoon with my mom showing her around the University of Chicago, while Albright’s took ten years and required building his own model door. Albright is one of my favorite artists and I’ve been fortunate enough to see a few of his most famous canvases while at the Art Institute of Chicago–including “The Door.” He and his identical twin brother, Malvin, were born near Chicago in North Harvey, Illinois, in 1897. Their father, Adam Emory Albright, was a landscape painter from a family of master gunsmiths, whose original name was “Albrecht.”
The magical realist style that Adam’s son was to develop was extraordinarily time consuming with works frequently requiring years to produce. Using brushes of a single hair, Ivan would recreate intricate lace curtains and splintered wood. It is perhaps because Albright spent so much time with his canvases that made parting with one so difficult–both for him and for the potential buyer. Despite producing much of his ouvre during the Great Depression, he charged 30 to 60 times what comparable artists were charging. In order to survive he relied on the support of his father and odd carpentering jobs.
It was, perhaps, Ivan’s familiarity with carpentry and wood working–as well as his insatable perfectionism–that caused Albright to carve and then artificially weather elaborate figural frames for many of his canvases. However, his commitment to the minutest detail of his work extended even further to the mixing of his own pigments, the building of elaborate models to serve as guides for his later paintings, and even a commitment to painting only in a black studio wearing dark clothing so as to avoid potential reflections and glare that lighter colors might introduce.
Albright’s canvases revel in subtle detail and fine texture–sometimes to nauseating effect. Lines frequently bow and recede in both obvious and subtle violations of Euclidian geometry. As in the fragment above, even “flat” surfaces have the sense of yielding to or extending toward the eye. I’ve played up–in the photographic medium–these tendencies by shooting with my favorite 7mm lens intentionally distorting the composition and pulling the eye violently toward the bottom edges of the frame where they “rest” on the smooth stone of the steps only to be drawn up again by the saturation of the doors. My image is actually a composite of seven bracketed exposures combined digitally in a process called High Dynamic Range photography (HDR) in order to create the subtle painterly effect of the dark wood against the stone.