Sunday 10 June 2007

Postcard of the Day No. 4

The city of Pensacola is on the Gulf of Mexico in north west Florida. Of the 18 images in this fold-out card there is one which for sheer poetry stands out from all the rest. Night has descended on Palafox Street. Moonlight silvers the receding tramlines. Dimly lit streetcars glide to and fro beneath a canopy of trees through almost deserted streets. The atmosphere is unsettling and a little threatening. A velvety, penumbral quality has been added to what would otherwise be an unremarkable subject. For this we probably have to thank the retouch artist whose brush and palette has transformed the image. Perhaps because we are used to seeing these pictorial devices employed in the service of sentiment, the neutral subject matter we see here becomes more enigmatic and troubling.

The iconography of Belgian Surrealist painter, Paul Delvaux, can be summarised as night-time, trams and unclothed female flesh. This postcard gives us two out of three. Delvaux’s paintings are often borderline kitsch owing to his artistic preference for wide-eyed nymphettes. When the girls are banished his compositions immediately become more deeply disturbing. And so it is that this humble postcard, quite unintentionally, can equal any of Delvaux’s paintings in its power to stir the imagination and unnerve the spectator.

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