Hamlet, 2004 Oil on linen 34 × 40 inches
Hamlet, 2004
Oil on linen 34 × 40 inches

This was based on an old black and white film still of Lawrence Olivier in his great film version of Hamlet. I love the text by Roland Barthes entitled the "Third Meaning" when he looks at "reading" film stills of Eisenstein movies, most notably Ivan the Terrible. The first meaning for Barthes is literally what is happening in the scene, how you would describe it, the second meaning is what it symbolically probably ("obviously") means for the director, the "third meaning," what for him he also calls the "vertical reading" is what the viewer brings to the still that perhaps wasn’t intended for the artist. This could be feelings, moods, synaesthetic memories, relationships between the image and the viewer’s own life. When I’m painting from film stills like these, or any photos, I am playing music or audiobooks that mean something to the content of the image, thinking about my thoughts, relating to the image the way a method actor relates to a character by projecting my own life onto the subject, and letting the person portrayed (if their is a person) be an avatar for myself. Picasso said if you paint copies of the Old Masters, how it’s not like the Old Masters is what is "you" about it. When painting this picture of Olivier (who was also gay, or at least "Hollywood bisexual," FYI, in addition to being one of the world’s great actors), I was thinking of my recent travails but also the character of Hamlet reacting to his world (our cabin home in Riverside is also in Lake Elsinore, named after Hamlet’s hamlet), and my reacting to the world of Bush and his new administration, and patriarchy in general. At this time in my career I would paint until the mood or muse would leave me and then leave the painting along—there is a lot of fervent unconscious rendering in the negative space that gives this painting its internal energy. Perhaps this was my melancholic mood of the period that resulted in the emotional tone this palate projects, hopefully ultimately a positive romantic feeling of what it is to be a critically thinking, hopefully romantically optimistic artist or character in our world then and today. I’m proud that my long-ago former TA at the Museum School Ridley Howard once appropriated this image, and inserted it into a painting he created of his artist wife Holly Coulis flipping an egg, cooking in the nude!