0 Reworking Strange Fruit

  • Blog
  • by Emily Elisa Halpern
  • 28-06-2020
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I couldn’t stop working on “Strange Fruit”.  The formal aspects of the piece weren’t sitting right with me. The yellow was garish and suddenly didn’t make sense.  And people didn’t understand the third leg in the middle- my take on it was that the figure was spinning in air and so therefore it looked as if there were more legs and besides- it’s supposed to be strange. But my critic friends kept up bringing up “third leg” as a sexual reference I was unaware of related to dick size.  I wanted to avoid that confusion.  If you think about dead weight, it’s heavy. It doesn’t spin. It was my favorite part in the painting, but as my favorite Professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Kit White advised early on, sometimes you have to destroy your favorite part of a piece in order to make it work.  Nothing is too precious to be destroyed, so I eliminated the leg with a slight echo of it below to indicate animation of the feet. I think that part works better now.

     But then what to do with the background? I tried to imagine what foliage in the South looks like: heavy underbrush maybe and Spanish moss hanging in big leafy trees.  Perhaps an unruly crowd/mob at the bottom - but just in the abstract. There should be more of a reference to things hanging down. I painted out the yellow and replaced it with a Payne’s gray mixed with warm gray but let peeps of yellow come through for light and alluded to trunks and branches.

     I dragged the painting outside and my artist friend Theodore Svenningsen came over for another crit- he likes it better.  I do too- but another friend couldn’t even see the figures at first- only the negative space in the background and someone else saw the background instead as ghostly images. One friend said her favorite part was the third leg and another preferred it yellow. Anyway, I’m finished with it now. I put it in the racks and am going to leave it alone. Sometimes when you overwork something the emotion can be lost.

            I hope that I am conveying how seriously I take the unspeakable lynching incident and the Black Lives Matter movement.  As you may be able to tell, I was feeling a little insecure about the piece but a friend reassured me that “the forces for ending white racism need to move beyond African Americans and white lefties. At some point all minority groups need allies and white and black radicals have united before. It’s high time that white people speak up and against white racism”.


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