Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Through Glass

Welcome back guest blogger Laura Jones. Thoughts this time on Dave McKean's His Story from Pictures That Tick.

I thought I was in love with the way McKean combines abstraction and representationalism. But if that's love, then love isn't a good enough word for how I feel about the metaphor he just created for artistic vision. And it's gruesome, yes, but fabulous. In 'His Story,' the story told to the narrator by his father is represented by a piece of broken glass.

When confronted with the shard as a child, he mishandles it, or misunderstands it, and is injured by it. He cuts his hand. He puts away the glass for several years. Older, he views the glass again. “It was still clear and cold. / But I was sure there was / more to it than that. / I had to get inside it. / Or let it get inside of me. / I had to look at it / in a different way” (172). And then he takes the shard, and he shoves it into his eye.

The narrator, through the simple metaphor of a piece of broken glass, illustrates the idea that an artist's creativity comes from looking at the world through the lens of pain and prior experience.

It is no accident that the central image of this short piece is a human form with a shard in his eye. It is a grotesque image. It elicits a visceral reaction. We like to protect our eyes from harm. The thought of piercing our eyes on purpose, obscuring our vision intentionally, is nearly unthinkable. And that gives this image a great deal of power. It gives the concept of an artist as a bit of a masochist a sense of literalness. The first person narration combined with the illustrations depicting what happens to 'I' suggest that there is a kinship between the writer/artist and the narrator. The sense of ars poetica makes it personal. The artist must suffer for his or her art.

It is also no accident that McKean relies on primary colors in this story to convey a sense of rightness. Prior to the narrator altering his vision, the illustrations are shown in shades of yellow or blue. With the entrance of the shard of glass and its piercing of the narrator, red – blood, pain – completes the trinity of colors. It is only with the metaphorical acceptance of red blood, the suffering of others, the stories of the past, that the images and the overarching plot become balanced and acquire a sense of completion. “Later,” the narrator says immediately after red becomes predominant in the imagery, “I thought I had made a / mistake. There was some pain. / And the way I saw everything / seemed to have changed. / But I had taken an / important step. / I could not go back now” (173).

The heightened balance of color and form in the imagery supports the idea that the pain shown is not gratuitous self-mutilation, but rather that it is a necessary part of the narrator's life progression. The text concurs.

As the written story progresses, the shard of glass through which the narrator views the world works its way through the narrator's head until it is no longer a part of his vision, but is instead behind him. The prism that gave color and depth to the narrator's life – the story that his father told him – has been forgotten piece by piece. At one point that narrator realizes that he is seeing the world, “through my own eyes entirely” (177). He looks for his father's presence again, searching in mirrors and microscopes. His father's story has fallen out of focus. His “memories all seemed frozen, / and cold, and hard” (179). With the lens of the broken glass missing from the narrator's vision, McKean's illustrations lose their color balance again. As in the beginning, the images of the narrator without the memories of his father are shown in muted shades of blue and yellow. Without the piece of glass to draw blood and show the world in a prism or clarity, the narrator is left in a dreamlike state of disbelief and monotony.

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