In all the hours you’ve spent in Butler, surely a few times you’ve been captivated by the icy gaze of Dwight D. Bwog’s Perceptive Portraitist Angel Jiang explicates the portrait’s composition and subtext.
The portrait of the man resides at the top of Butler Library’s monumental staircase. His gaze draws the line of sight upwards as the viewer ascends with each step. The artist experiments with multiple planes and foreshortens the man to such an extent that his head vanishes into the size of a child’s’; nevertheless his expression, reminiscent of a Roman patrician, confronts the viewer’s eternal guilt, as the man permanently scrutinizes each visitor.
The man, swaddled in robes, takes up nearly the entire canvas like a pantokrator in gray, beckoning the viewer to repent for passage into the heavens or perish to perish in the earthly inferno of the first story. The maudlin colors evoke the bleakness of the nineteenth century Realists, perhaps intentionally paralleling oppression at the hands of the bourgeoisie through the bristly application of chartreuse. He holds in his hand a blue tome of judgment, at his feet he has cast the relics of erudition, and the illumination of Enlightenment cast from his forehead falls parallel to a precious manuscript.
The color scheme and dim light of the portrait reflect those of the room that holds it, as if the portrait were indeed an extension of the library itself, and his gaze a probe into the viewer’s muddled psyche. Reciprocity and relativity remain throughout the entire viewing experience, but judgment becomes mutual; ultimately, he too is wearing an ill-fitted suit.