A perfect specimen of postmodern vision of the world, the artworks by David Blackwood can be considered as a revelation in painting. Making the fantastic collide with the ordinary, the artist creates the specific vision of the world, suggesting the audience to share his ideas.
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The very fact that his creation of 1980, Fire Down on the Labrador, has passed the time test and is still the object for admiration of millions of people, clearly shows that there is more to his pictures than meets the eye. The teasing irreality of the picture makes one peer deeper into the picture, trying to see the idea which led the author to creating this unusual and mysterious image.
In this “search for the pattern and meaning” (Leeuwen 35), it would be a good idea to take apart the picture into the ideas and images which come to one’s mind observing the masterpiece. Although some people tend to think that the thorough analysis can harm the perception of the picture, and, once taking it apart, one will never be able to make the pieces of the puzzle fall into their places, this is the very case when the analysis will do no harm, since the elements are as significant as the whole.
Casting a single glance at the picture is enough to understand that Blackwood dwells upon the marine theme. The troubled bluish sea and the outlines of the whale under the thick layer of water make one think of the vast ocean, wide as the entire Universe.
However, the ship that has caught fire breaks the silence of the ocean; the scarlet flames rising to the sky send the cries for help to the heavens above and shivers down the audience’s spines. Contrasted to the unruffled surface of the sea and the silent blocks of ice towering above the ocean, one can feel the trouble ringing in the air with his/her fingertips.
It seems that the whale which is floating under the dark thicket of the freezing sea embodies the suffering and the sorrow of the refugees from the ship. As well as those escaping from the ship, this ocean beast is being tortured by the fear within it; twisting and turning under the dark layers of water, it is curving in tortures.
What comes first to one’s mind when watching this picture closely is the scale of the elements in it. The shocking size of the whale, opposed to the tiny boat of the bunch of the sailors, is supposed to express the artist’s point if view. Making the survivors almost invisible compared to the whale, Blackwood creates the vision of the blind force which nature is for people, and makes it clear that, even when in pain – or is it better to say, especially when in pain? – it can toss away the feeble mankind with all its pathetic inventions.
Another idea which the picture raises is the eternal conflict of the incompatible. It seems that there is nothing as contrasting to each other as water and fire. Combined in a single picture and intertwined with the single plot, the two elements go wild in their fury, storming the nature into a rage as well.
However, there are two more elements in the picture which collide in a softer way. The sky and the ocean, both pitch-dark with the sparks of hope in them, both inviting and frightening, they mix into a fascinating vision. The few stars in the sky, lightening the way of the survivors, are so similar to the tiny bubbles rising from the depth of the ocean onto its surface; the former embodying hope, the latter meaning its loss, they create an incredible combination which makes one think of the frailty of human’s life and the secrets of the nature.
With help of the specific details and the thought-provoking legend of the picture, Blackwood created a masterpiece of all times. Though time passed, his work is still topical as ever. That is, perhaps, the best way to prove that real art never dies.
Leeuwen, Theo Van and Carey Jewitt. Handbook of Visual Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2001. Print.