Mar 182008
 

Cows are sizable animals, yet in two of these paintings the artist makes them appear small. This contrast characterizes them as helpless, as if a part of a machine controlled by an invisible giant, possibly a tyrant. We realize that the machine is the cattle industry whereas the giant is the man behind it. I think that in this setting the images will elicit different emotions from different people: remorse and pity from some, curiosity and indifference from others. I don’t think, however, that the artist intended to judge the audience. Instead he focuses solely on the theme; he presents his inarticulate models as either content and oblivious, when in a rural environment, or, as irritated, confused and alert when in a large-scale farm or auction theater.

Cow heifer rural farm painting

Stylistic divergence parallels the emotional one. The piece you see below is evidently realistic; it exploits the little light there is to create a rather anemic pattern (apparently the cow’s shadow) on the ground, while the darker details (particularly in the background) receive strained attention — shadow is king, light is only the page. The artist makes a virtue out of necessity and veers towards realism where impressionism would suffocate due to lack of natural illumination. The other two works, however, can be categorized as impressionistic with nearly the same certainty. Light dethrones shade, which recedes into the hangar’s belly or disappears altogether, and adds characteristic distortions: amplifies close subjects and misshapes them slightly into somewhat generalized types.

Cow industrial farm painting

It’s interesting how the rural environment, though including a fence, seems compact yet welcoming, as opposed to the vast industrial spaces, which nevertheless cast a claustrophobic sense of no escape. The animal stands undisturbed where grass grows under its hooves, but is constantly on the move — as if on a production line — in enclosed settings. Indeed, the freedom of choice of feed, one of the few liberties domesticated animals may have, appears to have been denied of the animals in industrial farms. Perhaps the random patterns on the cows’ skins may be seen as a protest; a chaotic antidote to the mechanical horizontal and vertical lines of the fences and the supporting pillars.

Cow heifer industrial farm painting

I think that in these paintings the artist probes into the basic instinct of freedom, common to all animals, including humans. The wide areas with overhanging metal and wood restrict the inhabitants from all directions, and our instinctive reaction of shrinking back when looking (or visiting) can be explained simply: we would not want to live there. We don’t ask the cows… but maybe they can provide some food — for thought too?

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