ROBERT VICKREY (1926–2011)
Eight Balloons, 1995
Egg tempera on gessoed panel, 22 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.
Signed (at lower right): Robert Vickrey
EX COLL: private collection, Congers, New York; sale, Clarke Auction Gallery, Larchmont, New York, April 22, 2018, lot no. 67
Painted in 1995, Eight Balloons features a behatted girl who appears in many of his works, often portrayed in a tightly compressed setting glimpsed from a bird’s eye vantage point, pictorial devices derived from his love of moving images. Illuminated by bright sunlight, the figure is seated on a bicycle amidst an intricate network of elongated shadows produced by the riderless bikes that likewise inhabit the rough, granular pavement. A recurring subject in his oeuvre, Vickrey took great delight in the pictorial potential of bicycles, viewing them as “elegant abstract forms” that, when seen under strong lighting, create a dramatic mélange of patterned shadows, as evident here.
The emphatic lines and circles produced by the bicycles are offset by the colored balloons that float randomly above the pavement, their presence lightening the mood and adding a note of gentle whimsy to the composition. As Vickrey explained in his book, Artist at Work, “I like to paint balloons because of their translucency (you can see their forms and yet see through them) and the fact that they throw colored shadows.... [T]he balloons catch the sun and glow like lighted bulbs” (Vickrey, p. 112). Certainly, in Eight Balloons, the child exists in a strange environment: partly playful, partly threatening, it is a world outside of reality. In discussing this aspect of his work, Vickrey has said: “Almost all my subjects are trapped in mazes, bars of light, shadow prisons ... all refracted facets of the physical world. Working the way I do, I can break up forms and create new combinations at will. This is a good way for a realist to indulge in some of the pleasures of abstraction.” As to the meaning of the picture––rendered so vividly with Vickrey’s exquisite technique––one might wonder if the child is lost or confused by the configurations that surround her. However, in keeping with the optimistic tone that characterizes his later work, we might surmise that Vickrey intended the white arrow to function as both a visual anchor and a sign of hope, as if pointing the subject in the right direction as she travels through life, with all its ups and downs.