The Orange Sweater, A Painting by Elmer Bischoff – by Dominic Quagliozzi
Bischoff’s states his ambition for these works, of which Orange Sweater (1955) is a part, to achieve “a condition of form which dissolves all tangible facts into intangibilities of feeling.” – Elmer Bischoff, excerpt from Elmer Bischoff: The Ethics of Paint
Last week my life was full of facts, figures, and data sets. For this intense week my being was being defined through numbers and measurables; nothing more than that. Images with grids, and tests with decimal points. Everything that was needed to be known about me could be found on a computer file or a in heavy, thick manila folder with frayed-edged paper and black and blue inked notes. Even as I looked inward at my own thoughts, this kind of sizing up of myself through tangible facts began to dominate my identity.
I wasn’t really Dominic that week, I was a file that projected a man: 31 years old, of 5 feet 7 inches, with A positive blood and chest measurements of 33” and the breathing capacity of 19%. I was now a survival rate in a hospital brochure. I wasn’t Dominic—I was a candidate for a double lung transplant at Stanford University Hospital. The intensity of becoming data overflowed by Wednesday night. My evaluations were completed and my wife Debra and I sat heavy or light (I can’t even make up my mind) on the bed with a stunned numbness about the whole experience.
The emotions of ME, I, of who I am, cannot be found in or concerned with the raw meat of my body. Emotions are not facts.
As the sun rose on Thursday morning, Deb and I, tired with hazed soggy eyes, dragged ourselves to a mystery meeting away from Stanford, away from the medicine of the body. We had one last appointment on our journey in NorCal before we loaded the car to the ceiling, plopped the dogs in the back seat and headed home to Los Angeles. This appointment, too, was for healing; a gift from my mother who wanted to surprise me for me birthday.
When we arrived I had giddy nerves as if it was a blind date. We walked in, signed in, started walking a little more; the wheels of my oxygen tank clunking behind me. As we rounded the corner, the painting appeared like a vision with more vibrancy than a Santa Monica sunset. For 12 years I’ve wanted to see this painting, but whether being on the wrong coast or having it not on view during the times I’ve visited SFMoMA somehow it had always alluded me.
Elmer Bischoff’s Orange Sweater, 1955.
The power of what art can do, what a timeless painting can do, what a simple act of moving a semi-fluid material around on a flat surface can do, what another person looking for something inside of themselves expressed outwardly for others to share… what that can do is change a mood, change a mental state, change an afternoon, a week, a life.
My relationship with Orange Sweater began in undergrad in 2000, when I was taking painting courses at Providence College. My professor, Jim Baker, recognizing I had some talent and an eye, told me I had to “stop trying to paint everything I exactly see, loosen up and interpret more.” To get me passed this attachment to objective reality, Professor Baker gave me books on the Bay Area Figurative. I was instantly in love. Their color choices, mastery of light, brave and seemingly effortless handling of the figure—damn, I was hooked. I tried emulating their techniques for about a year or two until I had arrived at my own approaches to painting. But I would always be drawn to their work. Bischoff’s work stood out for me the most, and of course Orange Sweater was the hallmark of my attraction to it all.
When I saw Orange Sweater in person, my eyes lit up. Reproductions had left the painting with an overall grey sensation, but my eyes saw passages of yellows and oranges and reds somehow dominating the canvas. As we looked at the painting and talked about it, the thing that kept being brought up was how much the painting changed with every look-away/look back. Bischoff really mastered something so lyrical and so visceral here, giving us new feelings with each eye movement.
The depth of the painting was impressive, too. Both the visual and psychological depth made me at once at home in that library and at home in my own head. A simple whisk of the brush near the top of the canvas suddenly rounded the library walls, giving shape to beautiful glass windows. This was a library I feel like I have been to, maybe never physically, but certainly upon reflection somewhere deep in a daydream or maybe even a nightmare. And my favorite element, the pop of orange near center to the composition. Just an amoeba of paint, standing in for a student with so much on the line, perhaps stressed out, perhaps leisurely browsing their favorite poems—perhaps getting a life lesson.
In the presence of Orange Sweater, I could be that kid again, gaining painting chops, seeing like an artist. I could be that kid with a future, strong and not worried about anything—the one without the terminal end of Cystic Fibrosis breathing down my neck. I could be Dominic, the artist, the guy who’s identity has been wickedly wrestling between artist and patient for 25 years. When it all comes together on that canvas, and when the silvery grays, allow yellows and oranges and reds sing through and the figures share harmony with the air and the architecture; this is when all the facts of “Dominic, the patient” dissolve into the beautiful intangibilities of Dominic, the artist.
Thank you Elmer, for being the only medicine that could breathe life back into my soul.
-Dominic Quagliozzi, 4/25/2014
On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at 7:30 PM, at Hiatus (602 Moulton Avenue, 90031), Dominic Quagliozzi will present Medical History (Part Two), a performance set in a loosely interpreted Operating Theater that serves to share the artist’s questioning of time, the veracity of his body, anxiety and the voyeristic nature of the hospital experience. More information may be found on Facebook:
You may view some of Dominic’s own work, including paintings, here:
Note that Dominic and his family face considerable expenses relating to his long awaited lung transplant; expenses quite beyond insurance coverage. If you’d like to help by making a tax deductible donation, please follow this link: