or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, August 06, 2010

Street Smarts

In my job as a framer, I see a lot of really bad art, much of it brought back by people who bought it while on vacation. They're out on the beach in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, and maybe some hack artist convinces them to buy, or maybe his work just catches their eye. It's usually a sort of geometrical abstract, the surface painted dark brown and then divided into rectangles of various sizes, each of which contains a vague human figure or a fish or a sunburst in raised paint daubed with gold. It's probably painted on a bedsheet; surprisingly many of them are. (I'm guessing they're taken from hotels by chambermaid girlfriends.) If I'd seen only one or two, I wouldn't care--people like to have souvenirs of a trip, and a framed painting is a good one--but I have worked on literally hundreds of these things, all essentially identical, and so I am left with the only possible conclusion: it's ugly, meretricious junk. The customers like them enough to pay for them and then pay to get them framed, though, so I try not to judge. Not too much, anyway.

But there is one category of painting that never fails to grate at me, and that is of a little French street scene, shops and doorways and cafes with tables, a painting of which I have seen dozens of incremental variants. It's badly done, always, but what makes it truly an abomination is the lettering on the shop windows and above the doors. Just this evening I had one such painting at the counter, and here is some of the signage depicted on this quaint French market street, signage I wrote down for your delectation:

GONFEGTION NOUVEAUFE ("confection nouveaute")

PSSAGE STE ANE ("Passage Ste-Anne"), and just below it
PHARMAGIE STE ANNF ("Pharmacie Ste-Anne")

PARFUMPIE (which is actually sort of cute--"parfum pie"!--but should be "parfumerie")

CHDCOLATS AU LAIT ("chocolats au lait"), and just below it

I think I know exactly what's going on: the artist does not know any French at all, in fact speaks a language which does not use the Roman alphabet--Chinese, probably--and is copying the words down from a printed source (or another painting).

This is forgivable in its way, because even talentless hack artists have to make a living, even if that living is earned (I surmise) in a Chinese sweatshop where they churn out such dreck by the carload. What is beyond excusing is that people who ought to know better buy these typo-riddled things, which they will have to look at for years to come, and somehow never quite register that, however innocently, they are being made of fun of.


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