In a final, shocking self-portrait, he paints himself naked, his body streaked in clammy blue tones, his genitals colored strangely brown. Coffer describes the picture as one last gasp of self-assertion—“an artist who is crowing at his potency.” Others see it as a rehearsal for suicide—a portrait of the artist as a young corpse. Either way, the image has the feeling of a radical, irrevocable act. A veil has been torn; anything is possible.
Under more ordinary circumstances, the cover of the issue for February 13 and 20, 2017—our Anniversary Issue, marking ninety-two years—would feature some version of Rea Irvin’s classic image of the monocled dandy Eustace Tilley. This year, as a response to the opening weeks of the Trump Administration, particularly the executive order on immigration, we feature John W. Tomac’s dark, unwelcoming image, “Liberty’s Flameout.” “It used to be that the Statue of Liberty, and her shining torch, was the vision that welcomed new immigrants. And, at the same time, it was the symbol of American values,” Tomac says. “Now it seems that we are turning off the light.”
Dispossessed despair, depression, despondent dejection, the doom is the off-white of white. But wait, white can’t know what white feels. Where’s the life in that? Where’s the right in that? Where’s the white in that?
At the bone of bone white breathes the fear of seeing, the frustration of being unequal to white. White-male portraits on white walls were intended to mean ownership of all, the privilege of all, even as white walls white in.
And this is understandable, yes, understandable because the culture claims white owns everything—the wealth of no one anyone knows. Still the equation holds— jobs and health and schools and better than before and different from now and enough and always and eventually mine.
This is what it means to wear a color and believe the embrace of its touch. What white long expected was to work its way into an upwardly mobile fit. In the old days white included a life, even without luck or chance of birth. The scaffolding had rungs and legacy and the myth of meritocracy fixed in white.
Now white can’t hold itself distant from the day’s touch— even as the touch holds so little white would own— foreclosure vanished pensions school systems in disrepair free trade rising unemployment unpaid medical bills school debt car debt debt debt.
White is living its brick-and-mortar loss, staving off more loss, exhaustion, aggrieved exposure, a pale heart even as in daylight white hardens its features. Eyes, which hold all the light, harden. Jaws, which close down on nothing, harden. Hands, which assembled, and packaged, and built, harden into a fury that cannot call
power to account though it’s not untrue jobs were outsourced and it’s not untrue an economic base was cut out from under. It’s not untrue.
If people could just come clean about their pain, the being at a loss when just being white is not working. Who said there is no hierarchy inside white walls? Who implied white owns everything even as it owns nothing? But white can’t strike its own structure. White can’t oust its own system. All the loss is nothing next to any other who can be thrown out. In daylight this right to righteous rage doubles down the supremacy of white in this way.
"These pictures, I think, come closest to describing my stories than any other work I’ve made,” Gregory Crewdson says of his latest project, “Cathedral of the Pines.” “They’re the most intimate, the most private, the most personal, and the closest to my heart.” In the video above, Crewdson and his crew discuss crafting enigmatic forest scenes in and around the rural town of Becket, Massachusetts, where Crewdson has lived, in a converted church, since 2011. The thirty-one works that make up “Cathedral of the Pines” will go on view at the Gagosian Gallery on January 28th.