Faded Prints on the Wall

In the house I grew up in, there were always a few prints hanging on the wall. The sort of typical domestic paintings you'd find in a family home. Ornate flowers and gentle landscapes, the beach, a meadow, a street scene.

I hated them.

Watercolour monstrosities each one. Calm and passive, empty decor posing as art. 

"What does that one mean to you?" I'd ask my mother, holding her personally responsible for their presence. She'd shrug and suggest that she just liked them, or else that they were just there because they were.

Jump forward nearly a decade. I'm working on AV Design for HE DREAMED A TRAIN - a show set in someone's lounge room. For an integral part of the design, I have to find a print to hang on the wall. There are a few criteria, but the first one that comes to mind is royalty free.

A quick search finds me this particular painting from 1847, by Andreas Achenbach titled Clearing Up-coast of Sicily. We continue searching for other options, but somehow this one sticks. And the more I look at it, the more drawn to it I am. Both for this particular context, and in a general personal way. It allures me.

It fits a lot of our criteria too. It's romantic, evocative, emotionally turbulent... But soon a new requirement emerges from the process. We need to be able to project video onto the print. In early tests, this image comes off a bit too dark, too detailed - it compromises the clarity of the video.

We go back to searching. Our AV Systems guy Freddy insists that we need to find something bland. I shudder as he shows us abstract smears and gentle pastels. We miss the drama of our original image... so we decide to keep it, but to fade it down a bit.

It's been on a wall, in sunlight, for a good many years. That's the logic we devise. This way the contrast can be toned down, but the content preserved. And it works perfectly for projection. Only now there's something about it that I didn't notice before.

It seems almost familiar. I don't feel drawn to it any more, it doesn't do much for me. But it feels as though I've felt this sense of indifference before. I start to suspect that it might have been one of the actual prints that my mother had. So I ask her.


My mother does a bit of digging and replies with this - a photo of the actual print that hung outside my bedroom for so many years. It's not the same, not at all really, but you can see how I could have been suspicious. She also suggests (because it seems familiar to her too) that my grandmother might have had the actual Achenbach print on her wall.

I feel strange somehow about the huge disparity between my impressions - how much I enjoyed the original landscape (unfaded) and how much I resented this landscape in my family home. 

I wasn't sure if this story had a profound point, but it did seem funny while working on a play about memory to have had such an odd deja vu moment. 

I've been thinking about factors that might cause my feeling of indifference. What makes me see a work as being pedestrian. There's something gentle about them that turns me off.

Maybe it's the restlessness of my youth, but I usually want art to scream at me, to hit me and poke me and thrust itself upon me. When an image hangs on the wall unobtrusively, chosen because the palette matches the furniture more than anything else... then it's probably not going to speak to me. It's probably not allowed to.

Is the print literally sun-faded or is it just that the image in its application is so domestic, so everyday, that it blends into the wall by obligation? It's the nature of corporate art, of hotel lobby art. Gentle. Faded because of their role as much as their exposure to the elements.