God, his nose as pink and deranged as Andy Capp’s, his eyes wearing Dick Tracy’s perpetual squint, was never quite sure what to make of the paintings of men like Roy Lichtenstein – though relatable their conceptual passion might have been.
Born without the patience to paint in full dimension, or the inclination to dwell much further than the primary static charm of flat invention, God nevertheless found himself in a strange kind of love with artists who preferred to live without the deadening contour of the coming congregation, but who still carried the casual devotion to intimacy that so defined the pulp service – painters and illustrators both – those who seemed to manage this trick of the eye with an almost unholy fervor – all the while toeing the line of tradition.
These included men like John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell, artists who paraded the character of the cartoon – the calligraphic bounce of limb and spine, the supportive mood of tone – but who looked through the line, ignoring it altogether, seeing it as an indicator of form, rather than as form itself.
God had to ask himself to contemplate the origins of the cartoon image, but not as the customary and prosaic example of cave marking and totemic glyph housing ancestral zygote, rather he would seek to ponder the printing floor, the ink-splattered boots of the union men spitting between humming machines – the sheaths of newsprint racing like time, stretched from drum to drum, the morning’s dawning instant but a blur of stark announcements – Blondie’s bosom begging release of her buttons, Ferd’nand stalking a turkey in the snow, Beetle Bailey with a tin plate to his knees – The Phantom furrowing his brow.
From his fleecy, smoke-stained corner of the bar, God would imagine the process of the maturing graphic, the constant need for refinement of line, as the press runs increased with human population – the speed of the ink leaving the plate, impregnating the pulp, increasing too, in order to meet the ever-growing demand of a populace learning to read of themselves in unison, thus setting the tar that sealed the roof of civilization.
All of this, of course – all this church of the pen scratch, this reverence to the wispy slip of the brush, this cross-bearing hatch – it all came before God discovered color.
Picture God, finding his color in the dingy helix of an old man’s tavern, his eyes blood red, his veins lavender and blue – his translucent skin like wax paper, digesting the light pricking the moth-worn curtain over his drooping head.
Is it not the eye at war with itself, he asked, is it not a complex blossom of filters transfiguring the fury of the heavens, offering retinal options, fooling one into complimentary faith, making one believe that colors actually exist?
For isn’t everything really just a monochromatic tableau of form and shadow, he reasoned, the spectrum of luck’s rainbow be damned?
Aren’t we the clever ones with the hungry paint-box eyes, he said to the dust swirling in the vortex of light before his weary orbs.
Aren’t we the mortal artisans giving away our thoughtless talents – each time we retract our lids – opening the door to visionary hallucination?
And this recognition of primary and secondary and tertiary hue, he drunkenly laughed, is it not as equally self-aggrandizing as the notion of a God who made himself in his own image?
It was this pious bow to the red of Mickey Mouse’s lederhosen, to the blue of Steve Canyon’s eyes – the yellow of Outcault’s Kid, the green of Albert Alligator, the orange of The Great Pumpkin, the brown of Mark Trail’s boots, the purple of the Wizard of Id – that made God draw the heretofore illusory line, the mark of entrapment – that gave advent to the secular colorist, the professional signifier of man’s optical sense of division, his need for visual segregation, the approach by which he gives name to things like gold, and orange, and lavender, and rose – to emotional states like blue, and green, and black – all the while ignoring his creator’s sluggish command, the words coming in a bubbly rush, God debating himself through countless listless afternoons, drowning in his own company, his children off playing – plundering the gaiety from a graying world.
God saw all of this in Lichtenstein, in his embrace of those flat fields of color – the icon used as narrative device, the insertion of text as breath’s lexicon, the vapor ports tethered to open mouths with spermatic tails – and he refused to believe it. Instead he fell to his knees, vomiting before an angry sun, freeing form from its natural context, revealing its frozen speed, the necessary emboldening of line to signify the movements of the colorist’s day, those final long moments of the afternoon when the ache behind the eyes put blur to the boundaries of intent, when even the mighty pressing machine himself lost sight of his objective, registering confusion between the borders he was well presumed to have defined.