The Naïve King

Goodwill Art gets Analyzed!

Somehow, I manage to consistently find joy buried between the aisles of Goodwills around the country… in fact, thrifting in new or different areas has become something that I try to include on any trip I take. It’s an easy and affordable way to find souvenirs, often times unique to the geographical location of the store they came from.

Recently, while exploring the Goodwill in South Portland, Maine, my brother and I stumbled across a painting that stood out as something purely unsettling. We knew immediately that it had to be ours, so we threw it in our cart and paid a measly $8 for this original piece, done by an unknown artist. Once home and hung on the wall of his apartment, the piece sat nameless for the evening until my brother conjured up the title The Naïve King. I think it fits the figure’s expression and the overall tone of the piece, so its adopted name is as such going forward.

Let’s take a look at this piece in further detail. Upon closer inspection, it looks like this was done with acrylic paint on canvas. Oddly enough, it actually appears as though the frame was handmade as well.

A figure sits squarely in the center lower half of the piece, about 3/4-to-full side view. The figure only occupies roughly twenty percent of the space on the canvas, the background obscured by a thick layer of blacks and light browns. This indicates that perhaps this was a practice canvas that had been painted over multiple times. On top of that, the fact that it was found at Goodwill also reinforces this theory, unless it was the unwanted art of some other previous owner (if that’s the case and the artist ever sees this – just know I like this piece!) The other thing that is indicative of the artist’s process is the anatomy of the figure’s facial features. To me, it is apparent that the face was the first thing the artist painted, followed likely by the body. The smoothness of the facial structure doesn’t match the sharp details in the face… which we’ll talk about shortly. I can say from experience that often times when I draw a highly detailed face, I can struggle to form the shape of a head/skull around it without building it all up evenly if that makes sense… I think that’s what happened here.

The next thing I love about this piece is the figure itself. This is a portrait… and I hope it is a self portrait, because there is something uncannily forlorn and abandoned about it… which makes me even more excited about the fact that it was found second-hand. The expression on the face has a hollowness to it that is drained of it’s emotional nature… this person has been dragged through something ugly. But even so… when looking closely at it, is the expression pained? It’s almost indiscernible what emotion the artist intended to capture, but it certainly isn’t happiness.

I also adore the presentation of the subject. The black background and highly lit figure harkens back to Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro style, but the shading is extremely flat, particularly on the crown, which adds an element of absurd, almost abstractedness to the style of the piece. Also, I can tell this is likely a portrait of a real person because of the tattoo on their arm. The inclusion of this specific shape (if you happen to know what it is leave a comment) on the specific placement of the arm suggests that this is likely a living person, because if they have a tattoo, chances are they are still alive (or of age to likely be alive). Perhaps it also could be the signature or logo of the artist. Gender is also ambiguous in this piece. While it appears to be a male based on the figure’s chest and lack of hair, the focus is diverted away from masculine/feminine imagery to the focal point… which is obviously the face.

My brother and I have talked about our fears involving us walking by it at night only to hear a slight mutter coming from the painting as we pass it. Or perhaps one day it will blink. I hope so!

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