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After Kubrick: A Landscape Essay

Artist Statement by Roberta Griffin

The Inspiration

It seemed to me that Bierstadt and the other Hudson River painters were illustrating “manifest destiny” on a national scale while Kubrick was portraying individual destiny on a personal scale. Jack Nicholson’s trip through the mountains to end in personal horror seems to point out how our national views have gone from general to specific—from looking at life from a national, civic or familial perspective to an individual, and at times narcissistic and self-defeating view. The landscape remains the same; the outcome changes.

At the same time, Kubrick used views of Montana and Oregon to create a “Colorado” (where the film is set) that was just as fictitious as many of Bierstadt’s romanticized paintings. I wanted to bring the images back into the landscape tradition and see if they could be both recognizably part of Kubrick’s film while remaining real places.

The Process…

The images do not simply replicate frames from the film. Rather, each work was based on selected images from the film’s opening sequence that were then slightly modified to follow conventions of 19th century landscape painting. Skewed perspectives were “corrected” and certain images have been narrowed or extended beyond the cinematic space. Size was a particular concern. I gave each painting the size that I felt the viewer might internalize in memory if they could have flown that route themselves.

…and what I discovered while doing it.

I watched the entire film multiple times before beginning to paint and let it play repeatedly in the background while I was working. I found that many elements in the movie as a whole were foreshadowed in the opening. For instance, the lake in the first shot looks serene and quiet but one can see the rocky bottom just beneath the surface. The Volkswagen often looks literally like a bug crawling along a string—one is aware that there is no alternative route for it, and Jack Nicholson’s character seems fated to travel to his personal destination.

No. 7: The Chopper was perhaps the most interesting one to work on because the actual point of view was revealed accidentally during the movie, when the shadow of the helicopter filming the sequence appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen (this shadow appears as the smudge in the corresponding corner of the painting). The Chopper is a term for “helicopter” but it’s also what Nicholson’s character will become. The following painting, No. 8: Jack Nicholson, is the only close-up view of the car (with Nicholson actually driving) and becomes a sort of landscape/portrait of a man confined on a desolate road with no connection to the majestic space outside the car and only the yellow line to follow.

With No. 9: Shelly Duvall, the viewer is gliding away from the confines of the car and the road. Duvall’s character, Nicholson’s wife, is not destined to remain trapped.

No. 10: The Shining has the bleak glow of future: I looked to Edward Hopper here as much as I did to Kubrick. However, the next two paintings and the characters they represent, Scatman Crothers’ kindly cook and Danny Lloyd’s innocent little boy, feature the warm colors of yellow leaves, rather than the dark green pines that dominate elsewhere.

Nicholson’s car enters a short tunnel, and thus a period of darkness as in the storeroom. Could it be he is tormented by drink or the influence of the ghosts? In either case he emerges a different man. The paintings now incorporate chasing lights (due to lens flare). These will-o-the-wisps seem to be pursuing the car for a while and then pull back to a higher elevation.

No. 19: Produced and Directed by Stanley Kubrick reflects both the film’s sinister ending and acts as a tribute to Kubrick’s previous works in black and white, while No. 20: Timberline Lodge shows the hotel at Mount Hood in Oregon that was used for the exterior shots.

The Frames

I wanted a simple look because with a movie you get an unframed image. I felt that the frames should be dark--like the interior of a theater--but have some interest of their own. After studying the images I came to the conclusion that Kubrick’s film is actually about light and color—it literally is “The Shining.” The climax takes place in a dark green hedge maze, and this color appears to symbolize the existence of the hostile ghosts. During Nicholson’s trip their presence could be illustrated by the evergreen trees, which cast long shadows like grasping hands after the car.

Hunter green was the color of Nicholson’s tie at the interview. He is already ensnared. At the end Duvall is wearing a checkered green shirt. She has the strength to break up the power of the ghostly spirits and thus get away.

Each picture is surrounded by this “ghostly” color but when one looks at the work as it hangs on a wall the frame becomes a “hollow” square of color similar to Duvall’s checkered shirt. We will not be taken in. The ghosts are playing with Jack only.

The green is actually laid over a dark burgundy, another color that was used symbolically throughout the picture.

The Music

The opening refrain from Berloiz’s Symphonie Fantastique (arranged as a Dies Irae by the American composer Wendy Carlos) is one of the most extraordinary elements of the film. It seems to march coldly and irreversibly through the sweeping spaces of Glacier National Park, and I wanted to create images that suggested its progression. The melody is 19 notes plus one grace note, thus the choice of 20 paintings. The first phrase ends with No. 8: Jack Nicholson. It sets the tempo and the somber mood. The next phrase follows through to the conclusion, which ends by repeating the fourth note of the sequence, here represented by No. 4: Dies Irae, the largest piece in the series. By musically returning to the grand scope of this particular landscape one is encouraged that perhaps our rather narcissistic views can be broadened again.

The Titles

The names of the paintings reflect the rolling credits, with each title being the screen credit that appears more or less in the center of the image in the film. By referring to the actors instead of the characters I further wanted to emphasize the play with in a play and the secondary source. People do not necessarily go out and experience life or landscapes firsthand: they watch films. But the locations (and the actors who populate them) exist in their own right. It may be said that Bierstadt’s paintings were fictional and so is Kubrick’s film. But Glacier Park and the Timberline Lodge exist in our world, along with helicopters, actors and Berlioz. By including numbers as part of the titles, we are reminded of Kubrick’s narrative. But it is also up to us to decide where we actually are within this sequence and what, if anything, waits at the end of the road.