Isn’t it a Pity?
Yes, it’s too bad when time shrouds the identity of an artist with a level of anonymity of a paleolithic bison painter. All I can say now is that I searched some more, but did not find. Cerco, ma non trovo.
The name I was looking for belongs to the creator of “Laughing Mona Lisa,” a piece of graphic art that was the subject of my last blog post. Unfortunately, the artist’s identity appears to be something that’s now lost somewhere in the irretrievable history of 1970s southern California pop culture. The trail was older, longer, and more faint than I imagined.
Apparently, art blogger Robert A. Baron went this way ahead of me. He got as far as tracing the image to a piece of wrapping paper from a Pier I Imports store in Redondo Beach, California . The gift wrap was back in the 1970s. Also during that decade, the graphic circulated in the form of cocktail napkins, says Baron.
That just goes to show how wrong I was with my earlier assumption. My plan was to contact the store in Florence, Italy, where I purchased the T-shirt, and then the wholesaler, the manufacturer, and so on. After all that, I thought, maybe I would learn who created the series of images that regularly appears across my chest and stomach.
This much I do know now, the original graphic has changed a little over the decades. So, it’s evolving in the public domain, apparently adapting to contemporary contexts as it continues to be in play in form of T-shirts and who knows what else next.
One change in the graphic is in the framing of the panels. Each shot was originally depicted as one frame on a roll or reel of 35 mm film. That is, the panels were framed by strips of camera or projector sprocket holes running along the sides of each panel. Or, as they are called in the film industry: perforations, perfs, for short.
The perfs reinforce the impression that the restrained smile on Leonardo’s model was a thing in motion, not fixed in a pose. Alone, each panel would stand as a single cinematographic instant, frozen within a sequence of instances as this lady’s expression changes on its way toward uncontrolled laughter. Leonardo’s original painting is one of those instances as well.
By the way, something like that could be said about the expressions of shock on the faces in Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” as the apostles react in the moment immediately following Jesus saying, “One of you will betray me?” Here is another frozen moment on its way to something else. First shock, then presumably horror.
While not as dramatic as the scene in the “Last Supper”, the expression in the Mona Lisa is presumably the initial reaction to the entertainment Leonardo arranged for her long sitting. Leonardo “surrounded his model with musicians, singers and buffoons to keep her in gentle gayety and so avoid the melancholy aspect we observe in most portraits,” says Giorgio Vasari. Vasari is the 16th century Italian painter, architect and author of Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.
Just “gentle gayety”? Come on, Giorgio. With buffoons in the room, would not the punch lines, pratfalls and slapstick produce some laughing out loud?
In 1980, years after the wrapping paper and cocktail napkins, the graphic appears again on the back cover of a slim edition of a now out-of-print collection of Mona Lisa parodies and Mona Lisa influenced artwork. That would be, Mona Lisas, by Mary Rose Storey, pictured above. “Laughing Mona Lisa” appears on the back cover.
This time the panels appear without the film perforations, so the graphic at this point is more in the style of comic book panels. This is also how the drawing appears on my souvenir T-shirt. The curious thing is that while other artwork is credited to the artists in Ms. Storey’s book, “Laughing Mona Lisa” remains uncredited on the back cover. It’s not even listed as “anonymous.”
So how do I leave this?
Ok, this helps. When I was a newspaper reporter, I sometimes wrote about hikers, climbers, or hunters and children getting themselves lost in some wilderness or another. There would be a big search operation with hundreds of volunteers and sometimes aircraft. Most of the time the people were found. Once or twice the individuals disappeared for good, sad to say. In those cases, the last press release from the sheriff read “search suspended.” Suspended? Suspended until when? I always had ask that. Suspended pending further information, was always the answer. No closure.
So, search suspended. There’s nothing here of the magnitude of a missing person, of course. This little case does remains open and with no word on whether the artist is even alive after all this time. I’d love to learn that he or she is alive and well, of course.
Meanwhile, if I’m going to have a conversation with the creator of a piece of graphics art that I like, it will be something else, and some another time, probably fairly soon.
Please stay tuned.