Painting’s fortunes rise and fall, but how is the industry faring where it really counts these days—in the High Court of Pop Culture?
Answer: It depends.
If you’re in the Philadelphia region, painting is the stuff of high art—literally.
In Arkansas? Not so much.
Call it a public display of affection. In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love has given painting a unique valentine in the form of a new public sculpture.
Installation of Paint Torch, by Claes Oldenburg, wrapped in downtown Philadelphia last week after several months of construction.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
|Paint Torch, by Claes Oldenburg, is erected outside the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.|
Located a block and a half north of City Hall, the 51-foot, blue-and-orange paint brush stands on end, leaning over the pavement at a daring 60-degree angle. A six-foot glob of (sculpted) paint on the ground below completes the scene.
This is Philadelphia’s fourth work by Oldenburg, celebrated sculptor of the quirky Clothespin and Split Button. (Don’t look for metaphors, if you’re from out of town. The sculptures are what they say they are.)
Oldenburg, 82, watched the completion of the installation last Saturday (Aug. 20). One discovery he made: The handle of the towering paintbrush tapers as it meets the sidewalk, just as the street recedes toward the horizon.
“It’s a vanishing-point perspective; it gets smaller at the bottom,” Oldenburg told WHYY. “You see that in the context of the other vanishing-point perspective, which is the city itself. I hadn’t realized before.”
‘A Blow-Up Duck’
The sculpture was designed to be the centerpiece of Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s oldest school of fine arts.
The academy explained in a release: “The monumental paintbrush points to the growth and vitality of American art, honoring the act of painting, from the classical masters in the Museum to the students in the School of Fine Arts, and also, in its spare but voluptuous form, the practice of sculpture, also displayed in the museum and created in the school.
Oldenburg van Bruggen Foundation
|A pencil-and-crayon artist’s rendering shows Paint Torch. In the real version, the paint blob is six feet tall.|
“Its form also doubles as a torch and a symbol of liberty, homage to Philadelphia’s historical significance as the birthplace of America and a leader in the American Revolution.”
David R. Brigham, PAFA’s president and CEO, said the sculpture would “boost the public’s level of cultural engagement as well as achieve a heightened sense of civic pride.”
Reviews from the street were mixed. A passing salesman said the sculpture would take some getting used to. Academy curator Robert Cozzolino said it reminded him of Woody the Woodpecker. And one woman said the sculpture “looks like a blow-up duck, or something.”
‘We Didn’t Come to Paint’
Like it or not, Paint Torch is an empowering view of painting of all kinds. The story is different in Arkansas, where Razorbacks Football is painting painting as an activity for losers.
“We didn’t come to paint”—Coach Bobby Petrino’s fist-thumping statement after his team’s victory over LSU last year—has now become the official, trademarked rallying cry of Razorbacks Football.
|The Razorbacks’ new shirt, which disses painting, is covered in paint splotches, leading one blogger to ask: “Did the painting already happen? Is that why Arkansas didn’t come to paint?” |
“Honestly, nobody seems to be 100 percent sure what the phrase means,” blogs Chris Bahn of Arkansas Sports 360.com.
Petrino says the phrase came from Assistant Coach John L. Smith. “I worked for Coach Smith for a long time (at Louisville), and we had a saying: ‘We didn’t come to paint. We came to win a game,’“ Petrino told The Commercial Appeal.
Or, as hoginthesw wrote in a fan post: “It means you didn’t come to frick around.”
One thing Bahn can’t understand: Why is the new “We didn’t come to paint” line of merchandise covered in fake paint splotches?
No matter: With Petrino’s $3.56 million salary, he can afford to buy several—and even clean up that big blob artfully spilled in Philadelphia.