Art is a visual means of communication, but often what is not seen is as important as what is seen. Michael Brophy’s painting Small Curtain is an excellent example of how artists often suggest a narrative but leave the meaning ambiguous or hidden. Brophy sets up a mysterious scene that asks more questions than it answers. It makes us think.
Our eyes first see a red velvety curtain and a fallen tree stump. Behind the curtain is a forest. Is the curtain in the forest or is the forest on a stage? If the forest is on a stage, why? Perhaps the artist is suggesting that the audience (or viewers) are watching nature but not in it. Or – maybe that we see nature, as represented by the forest, as something to admire from a distance, something to entertain us, to add drama to our lives.
Two large trees in the foreground seem to be protective of the fallen tree. The fallen tree and the two strong vertical tree trunks just behind it visually block us from entering further into the scene. To the right, an opening exists for the viewer to enter and when we do we are pulled back by an S shape of light toward a distant background space that is full of backlit trees. If we could walk back into that space, what would we find? What would it smell like? What sounds might we hear? Or would there be only silence?
Is the curtain going up or coming down (on nature)? Is the play beginning or ending? Will we walk into the scene and become part of the play, or will we stay removed, waiting for the next act?
To me, the best art engages the viewer on many levels – sensory, emotionally, and intellectually – and is open to multiple interpretation. What’s your interpretation of Small Curtain?
— Mary Jo Maute, WM Education & Public Programs Coordinator