The Executioner: By the Neck By David Cairns
Designing for del Toro By Eric Skillman
1973 Ford Pinto with Tanguy Sky (“3 Women”) 2011 | oil on canvas | 40 x 60 inches
Robert Altman’s 3 Women is a surrealistic and unsettling study in identity theft, where personalities intertwine and unravel amid the desolation of the American West. It stands as one of the most compelling and original films ever made—at once devastatingly sad, hilarious, bizarre, and terrifying.
The film centers around the relationship between Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) and Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), two lost souls desperately seeking love and acceptance. Millie (a character Duvall nearly single-handedly developed) is unconsciously engulfed by her own pathological narcissism, and is so deeply committed to the fantasy in which she exists that she is oblivious to people’s indifference toward her. Pinky Rose—in Spacek’s words, “the impish eternal child”—seeks salvation in Millie, at one point declaring, “You’re the most perfect person I ever met.”
The following scene nicely encapsulates the themes of the film, particularly Pinky’s speculation about the amorphous identity of twins—she asks: “Do you think they know which one they are?” It also connects conceptually with a body of work I continue to develop, which reinterprets cinematic car sequences as a means of exploring film and dream narrative, metaphysics, and psychological dysfunction. 3 Women is one of my favorite films of all time, and the Pinto scenes were a perfect fit for this series—psychologically impaired characters interacting awkwardly within a confined and claustrophobic space. Their physical proximity in the intimate space of the car interior is in stark contrast to their emotional detachment and personal alienation.
As with other paintings in the series, a camera pan or a series of shots is compressed into a single image, depicting multiple aspects and actions simultaneously, idealizing the sequence and manipulating and expanding the narrative. The translation of the dynamic and temporal nature of film to the static form of painting depicts the passage of time in two dimensions, and for me represents the idea of nonlinear and/or simultaneous time.
In the painting, the characters sit in the car and stare blankly, surrounded by a flat expanse of desert painted like a backdrop, and a sky sampled from the visionary artist Yves Tanguy, in parallel with the surrealism of the film. I’m interested in the artificiality of the interior and exterior spaces and the disconnection between the two, which functions as metaphor for Millie and Pinky, both so disoriented and immersed in their respective inner worlds that they are unconscious of their surroundings and their true selves.
Eric White is a visual artist showing extensively in the U.S. and Europe, and living in New York City. His work can be seen here.