My Favorite Painting–Joseph Mella

Alfred DeCredico, 1991, Indomeneo: Echo, Mixed media on canvas and wood,  41" x 65"

Alfred DeCredico, 1991, Indomeneo: Echo, Mixed media on canvas and wood, 41″ x 65″

Joseph Mella
Director, Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery

Photograph: John Jackson

Photograph: John Jackson

What does sound look like? The artist Alfred DeCredico, in his painting Indomeneo: Echo, tries to tell us. In doing so, he creates a powerful, complex work of art that is a visual response to Mozart’s opera Indomeneo, Re di Creta (Indomeneo, King of Crete). In the story of Indomeneo, which is also found within the Iliad and may be a piece of Cretan folklore, this king of Crete makes a promise to Poseidon to sacrifice the first person he meets when he returns home in gratitude for the god’s saving the king’s ship from a storm. Tragically, the first person Indomeneo encounters is his very son.

DeCredico’s interpretation of the opera is pure, lyrical abstraction that can be appreciated on its formal qualities as much as its ability to illuminate Mozart’s opera. In a letter, DeCredico observed that “the form of the painting . . . is derived more from the sound sensations constructed by Mozart in his opera than the actual content of the legend. There are key psychological issues raised in the story that I thought about when making the picture; primarily the issue of a strong character (the ruler, Indomeneo) caught in a trap which is the consequence of rashness.” For DeCredico, the challenge was to take these sensations, as well as the spirit of the tragedy itself, and reduce it to a two-dimensional work of art. It is a work in which the use of material holds metaphorical meaning. In one of the painting’s three panels, DeCredico layered encaustic, or wax, on the surface in order “to reference a thin, cold atmosphere—a space of transition” that the king, Indomeneo, was forced to confront with the sacrifice of his son.

For me, the idea of visualizing this transformative moment that ends in tragedy, along with the actual character of Mozart’s opera, music that is in DeCredico’s view at once “grand and impulsive, regal and authoritative and yet sympathetic,” is brilliant. This painting, not unlike works by masters of modern art such as Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Jackson Pollock, concerns itself with a sense of interiority and for that very reason is, in the end, a reflection of the self.

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