University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Encountering the Spectre of Painting

Fisher, James (2015) Encountering the Spectre of Painting. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 20 (2). pp. 112-117. ISSN Print: 1352-8165 Online: 1469-9990

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When thinking what paintings are, I am continually brought back to my memory of a short sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In the scene, Kim Novak’s Madeleine is seated on a bench in an art gallery. She is apparently transfixed by a painting, Portrait of Carlotta. Alongside James Stewart, we watch her looking intently.

Madeleine is pretending to be a ghost. At this stage she does not expect us to believe she is a ghost, but simply to immerse ourselves in the conceit, to delight in the shudder. Madeleine’s back is turned away from us, and as the camera draws near to show that the knot pattern in her hair mirrors the image in the portrait, I imagine Madeleine suppressing a smile. She resolutely shows us her back, though, so her feint is not betrayed.

Madeleine’s stillness in this scene makes her appear as an object, a thing in the world, a rock or a pile of logs perhaps. We are not looking at that thing, however, but rather a residual image of something creaturely, a spectre. This after-image is held to the ground both by the gravity suggested by its manifestation and by the fine lie - the camouflage - of pretending to be a ghost.

Encountering a painting is like meeting Madeleine. It sits in front of its own picture, gazing at it. Despite being motionless and having its back to us, there is a lurching sensation the painting brings about by pretending to be the ghost of its picture, and, at the same time, never really anticipating your credulity.

Item Type: Article
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Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: spectre of painting, ghosts, songs, poems
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Arts
Related URLs:
Depositing User: James Fisher
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2016 11:18
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:14

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