Sunday, August 16, 2015

Of Giants and Men

"Under Slottet Bron" assembled with its frame for the first time.
Copyright © Edward Riojas

Everyone notices the tear.

Out of 30 square feet painted with dense detail and another 50 square feet of elaborate framing, people quickly pick out one of the smallest features that struggles to fill a quarter inch of space. I’m describing, of course, a work of mine – this year’s ArtPrize entry entitled “Under Slottet Bron,” or “Under the Castle Bridge.” It is a reprise of a theme I used two years ago when I painted an enchanted Scandinavian forest, “Förtrollade Skogen,” for ArtPrize.

Like the former painting, this year’s entry is packed with lush detail and is populated by humans and folkloric creatures and natural fauna in a style that draws influence from illustrator John Bauer. There are insects for children to find and small animals that are warm and fuzzy enough to elicit the unavoidable “Awwwww!” There are also runes transliterated between a Scandinavian tongue and English with seeming abandon and lack of authenticity. The whole is meant to be an escape and an ode to the human imagination. But I also wanted a connection to reality, even if it was no more substantial than a gossamer. Hence, the tear.

That detail was a later addition which seemed more necessary as time passed and the painting progressed. The strange thing is that the tear is neither on a little girl, nor a lost boy, nor any other human – it is rolling down the cheek of a giant troll.

The painting’s imagery was inspired by visitors who viewed my 2013 entry, “Förtrollade Skogen.” One gentleman of Scandinavian heritage pointed to a troll in that painting and related how he was so steeped in folklore as a child that he did not cross a bridge “vittout tinkink twice.” “Under Slottet Bron” is dominated by a bridge that connects the worlds of reality and imagination. Under the bridge crouches a giant troll. Among those crossing the bridge is a small boy who seems to be the only one aware of what lies beyond reality. And just outside of his view is the troll.

Perhaps the tear is not what the viewer expects. After all, the troll has a near-toothless skull hanging from his belt and a tree-sized club in his hand. There is a chain terminating in a morning star, and fingernails worn to points. Sorrow and pain do not fit the image of such a figure.

Trolls, of course, do not handle daylight very well and will turn to stone in the sun. Originally, the troll was simply sleeping in the shadows, waiting for daylight to fade into darkness. He wasn’t exactly menacing, but he wasn’t Mr. Congeniality, either.

Vulnerability, when given to monsters, makes them lamentable – even pitiable. It makes them approachable. It makes them human. In a way, the troll is a portrait of me – the Curmudgeon. People who know me understand that I can be harsh and exacting and demanding. I can be ornery and ugly. But those who know me well also know I can be very brittle and fragile. Gender doesn’t matter, neither does outward bravado. Or size. The hurt is simply bigger.

Telling comments about the tear range from, “Why is he crying?!” to “I don’t WANT him to cry.” For an artist, getting responses like those are golden. Artists want to affect viewers. Otherwise, we fail in visually expressing ourselves.

“Under Slottet Bron” is rather like an unfinished story without beginning or end, and the viewer’s reaction to it is important. The title of the painting comes from an ambiguous, poetic string of words I wrote for the piece. Runes, running around the frame, transliterate the verse, “The tale is told of a sleeping troll under the castle bridge...But his tears that swelled the oceans were all but forgotten.” Somewhere between those small words is a very large story.


“Under Slottet Bron,” by Edward Riojas, aka The Art Curmudgeon, will be hosted by DeVos Place Convention Center, in Grand Rapids, Mich. ArtPrize runs Sept. 23 through Oct. 11, and is a public vote/juried competition with a total purse of more than $500,000. For more information on the event, go to

1 comment:

  1. Amazing! I can't wait to see that tear...I'll probably cry too.