Since I concluded last year’s Art for the Month of June with Albert F. King's Late Night Snack, which I had a chance to view at the Art and Appetite exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, I guess it would be appropriate that I begin 2015’s series with another still-life from that same show.
Joseph Decker’s Upset caught my attention for several reasons. While the title obviously refers to one having indulged in the candies on display, there's no evienace as to whom they might belong to, or if they were a gift or purchased for oneself. I like that brave ambiguity. Furthermore, our treats are not supplied with a background or setting, thus we are required to observe them in a static environment with only the knowledge that they’ve caused someone a stomachache. At the far right you'll even find a lonely chocolate from which someone has taken a bite. The mood is one of regret, but at least we can enjoy the wonderful still-life presented here.
The Dutch Golden Age endowed the still-life genre with a long-standing tradition of symbolism which has endured ever since, but this piece by Decker is so matter-of-fact that it stands contrary to that convention. Aside from the foreboding title, there’s no mystery as to the subject of this work. If you can find indication that this assortment of sweets are meant to illustrate a parable, feel free to call it to my attention. Shown here is simply an opened box of candies, and we are inclined to appreciate this work solely for its craftsmanship and aesthetic qualities. I can get onboard with that.
If Upset isn’t brimming with symbolism, then it’s neither an exercise in trompe l'oeil, or rather, a painting meant to deceive the eye by supplying an optical illusion, a popular subgenre at the time. Decker is so dedicated to his own unique, straight-forward approach to painting that I find his effort admirable.
One would assume a box of candies would be an easy enough subject for still-life. However portraying them as naturally as they are shown here is no easy task. Decker’s attention to placement is meticulous, perhaps moreso than it really needed to be, yet he makes his assortment feel so fluid. I love how the shapes and colors of his candies function to compliment each other at various points, guiding our eye through the image. I also enjoy the sharp, angular contours of the box, but above all else I find myself drawn to the lid, propped up just enough to cast a soft shadow underneath, inviting us within and also providing the scene with needed depth and dimension.
And I could go on and on and on, but let’s just say I find Upset a wonderfully executed still-life, celebrating the fine workmanship of the genre without occupying itself with any ambitious themes. Referencing the movie Mystery Men, I'd like to imagine Decker stating, "I paint well. I paint very well."