Monday, February 20, 2006

'I Just Can't Seem to Paint Nice Things'


"I just can't seem to paint nice things."--Ivan Albright.

Ivan Albright was born on this day in 1897 in North Harvey, Illinois.

Albright was the son of a portrait painter who studied with Eakins. He learned drafting as a boy and aimed to become an architect. His stint in an Army medical unit making surgical drawings during World War I, however, inspired him to become a painter instead -- though his painting would thereafter be influenced by the surgical techniques he witnessed in the Army. He developed his personal style away from the New York scene in Chicago, a style typified in his first major work, Into the World There Came a Soul Named Ida (1929-30), a portrait of an attractive 21-year woman which he transformed into a carbuncled old crone looking into a mirror. Like many of his portraits to follow, the painting was a kind of cumulative document showing all the changes in an individual's appearance which would be produced by time and decay.

With his aesthetic interest in mortality, it was not surprising that Albright would be tapped by Hollywood to paint the title painting for the climax of the MGM film of Oscar Wilde's novella The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) -- a black-and-white film, except for four views of Albright's painting, which appeared in gory color. (The portrait of Gray as a young man was completed by Ivan's twin brother, lesser known painter Malvin Albright.) Albright also experimented with film himself and left copious notebooks in which he mused over the relationship between words and images. He died in November 1983.

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