Artwork of the week: Mailboxes by Kenneth Callahan.

There’s an artwork the at the Seattle Art Museum that not many people visit. It’s one of my favorites. I visit this work because of the life that springs from the artwork that is at first glance is just a few mailboxes in the countryside.

Kenneth Callahan, Mailboxes, 1935, oil on canvas.

Leaning drunkenly against a wild sky.

Our eyes track the mailboxes. Two standing upright with their dicks out. While another leans drunkenly in a slumber.

Above them a sign post rises like a crucifix. It makes me think the mailboxes are representative of Christ, the good thief Saint Dismas, and the unrepentant thief, Gestas.

The sky is wild, swirling down towards the mailboxes. The sky is rendered with such force that it looks like the clouds are buffeting the drunk mailbox over.

I look at the sky a lot when I visit.

Detail; Kenneth Callahan, Mailboxes, 1935, oil on canvas.

Eye of god looking back at us.

When I paint the sky, it never looks like a real sky. It’s patchy and weird and my clouds are wonk. I never feel good painting the sky.

The sky in this work is crazy! It shows that it doesn’t matter if the sky doesn’t look like this, it’s the feeling it gives you, this wildness, the unforgiving forces of nature.

Look again and it makes me wonder if that’s the eye of god looking back at us.

Ray Monde, Monolith, 2022, Mixed Media.

Man into rock, rock into man.

Callahan said nature was “the interrelationship of man, rock, and elements; the creating and disintegration, repeated over and over: man into rock, rock into man, both controlled by sun and elements.”

There’s a certain maleness to this work that reminds me of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

As Callahan said himself, “Seeing is the thing, seeing with the inner eye and the outer eye, seeing…the repetition of kinds of form, movement, designs, patterns. You find this in all things, in the flow of water, sand patterns, wind currents, the muscles of men and horses.”1

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