In the early ’70s the Boston Gas Company commissioned Sister Corita Kent to produce an artwork that would enwrap their 140-foot-tall natural gas tank along the Southeast Expressway, two miles from the Massachusetts capital. The untitled work, dubbed the “Rainbow Swash”, consists of eight brightly colored brush stokes on a white background. It was executed in 1971 by a team of twenty painters. This artwork, the largest copyrighted artwork in the world, was immediately contentious as some Boston residents believed the artist had hidden the silhouette of Ho Chi-Minh in the blue “swash.” Kent denied painting the profile of the Viet Cong leader in her work. The piece was torn down and completely repainted, with the only change being that the blue swash’s dubious features got dulled down. Somewhat less controversially, the yellow swash is said to resemble Fred Flintstone.
We use a big part of our brain to pick up visual stimuli and focus, analyze and understand them. Looking is not a passive process. It means inspecting your surrounding while also anticipating what it is that may come next. Our perceptual system is constantly scrolling the landscape, attempting to help us predict what it is that lays ahead on the horizon. Looking through a box of unsorted prints, you might make new connections between different images and construct new narratives each time the box is reshuffled. A tree, a checkered napkin, twin sisters, a doodle. Stop anticipating, stop predicting. Forms toggle between abstraction and formation. Like bringing an image out of wood with carving tools or Ruben’s vase. We bring our own biases and past experiences into looking everyday. I’d argue this is especially true in the arts. Everyone’s different; some people have to work harder to filter out connections that could seem irrelevant to others. They see and find meaning in something where others find nothing. Like a blue and yellow swash of paint becoming Ho Chi Minh or Fred Flintstone.
Text by Jeffrey Joyal