Andrée Ruellan, Ever Young

by Andrew Ladis

 



 

Although craps -- hazard in French, is a game of unpredictable, dangerous chance, little is left to happenstance in Ruellan's design. Countering and animating the frieze-like effect of the figures is the diagonal placement of the logs at center, the steel rails and wooden crossties of the railroad track, the almost imperceptibly oblique facades of the two buildings at either side, and the gently receding angle of the catwalk, which insinuates itself between the lamppost and the building at left to recede seemingly unsupported beyond the left margin of the picture. The white globe of the lantern hangs directly above the similarly colored hat of the leftmost figure of the foreground group, and the diagonal struts of the catwalk descend from left to right to a point directly above the second figure's head. The interplay between one inanimate thing and another echoes the variously cocked heads and casual poses of the human figures at center, arranged in two groups of three to either side of the central pair, the one standing and frontal, the other seated and with his back turned. The exact center of the painting is to be found in the relatively vacant space that is field and sky, or to be precise: in the cupped hand of the standing figure who faces frontally and straddles the central axis, while lowering his head and seeming to rest his elbows on the horizon, thereby creating a tension between top and bottom, near and far.

Although on the surface Crap Game is an image of men passing the time in sport, it is hardly an image of leisure and play but rather one of unemployment and hard times. Painted in the wake of the Great Crash and in the darkest days of the Depression, the image shows a side of Charleston unfamiliar to tourists, a side of the city that has no right side of the tracks, a working-class section of town without work. Although a fuming smokestack in the distance suggests productive activity, the red brick facades of the warehouse at left and the lumber yard at right frame a more immediate scene of idle businesses and idle hands, the latter all African American. The most vulnerable of society, at the bottom of the economic ladder, congregate around a treeless, leafless workplace, where windows and doors are shuttered tight: One sits against the door jamb of the warehouse, while another walks away; three mill about the lamppost beside the equally idle track; and the largest group, filling the foreground, seeks to occupy time with nothing to wager -- a business with little chance of profit. Perhaps lacking the grit and overt heartache of some images of the Depression, Crap Game nonetheless has a quietly admiring poetry of endurance, and the image of the game itself serves as an ironically melancholy metaphor of life's tough odds.

 

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