Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST: The End & JMW Turner

JMW Turner
91 x 124 cm. oil on canvas 1828-29, finished 1837
Tate Gallery, London
© Tate
"I saw that the sun was a lump of white standing out like the boss of a shield."
-Sir John Gilbert (after watching Turner paint on Varnishing Day)

Last night the final episode of Lost was broadcast on ABC. After a six year run the series ends almost as it began with a close up of Jack's face. Six years ago, Jack opened an eye to the strange new world of the island. Last night his eye closed to the mystery.

Satisfyingly, the mystery remains for us. The intersection of quantum physics and myth that seemed to engender the island remains tantalizingly out of reach. Jack's father may have walked offscreen into a heavenly light in the slide sideways/ slide metaphysical finale but on the island the tangible wreckage of a plane remains in the final shot before the credits roll.

At the start of this season, Chad W Post on the WSJ's Speakeasy wrote,"So if Lost wraps up with a definitive conclusion, with a series of resolutions and answers to all the mysteries, I’ll be disappointed. Great works of art don’t work that way. Great works of art are open to interpretation. If I already know the solution, why revisit the puzzle?"

Yesterday, in Paris the exhibition Turner and the Masters closed as well. I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Palais a few weeks ago and reveled in the light in Turner's works. In JMW Turner's paintings, light and shade are not abstract concepts nor a means to an end. Light and Shadow for Turner were in a sense palpable beings or characters.

As this season's episodes of Lost built to a conclusion, the dichotomy of light and shadow gained screen time. At times this duality was schematically rendered as black and white or as a glowing cavern and a shifting being of smoke. In a mythic sense were Jacob and the Man in Black merely personifications of day and night? Or was there a darker battle between Good and Evil that threatened all existence?

JMW Turner
Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace
918 x 708 mm oil on mahogany exh 1832
Tate Gallery, London
© Tate

Turner would have had fun with the themes and imagery in Lost. I can only imagine how much richer and powerful Turner's depiction of the glowing cavern would have been. In the hands of a master like Turner a simple medium of pigment and oil can create a world that far surpasses the technological feats of digital graphics.

Turner learned much from the artists who preceded him. From Claude Lorrain, Aelbert Cuyp, Rembrandt and others Turner learned "to blend ... in all the golden colour of ambient vapour." It is the mystery within this blending of light and shadow that draws us back into Turner's paintings over and over again.

Chad W. Post hoped that "the final moments of Lost echo the ambiguously abrupt ending of The Crying of Lot 49, which leaves the reader tantalizingly close to resolution but forces them to go back through the book time and again, revisiting key brilliant passages in hopes of figuring it all out. I want my Lost incomplete. I want it to leave me with a desire to keep re-watching and debating. I want it to remain the great work of art it has become over the past five seasons."

Some Other Thoughts on the Lost Finale:

Chad W. Post writes "In terms of the overall narrative arc, I thought this was pretty brilliant and satisfying. The show has always been more about the characters than the mysteries. And the more time that passes (hello 1:30am!), the happier I am with how Lost resolved itself."

Tyler Cowen writes on Marginal Revolution,"Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos."

James Poniewozik at TIME Magazine writes: "Lost, was not perfect, because nothing is. I still believe that Jacob and the Man in Black were never characterized as richly as other characters, like Ben, which rendered Locke in the end too much of a generic baddie. And the final images--with the heavenly light shining though the doorway of the chapel, as Christian walked into it a la Close Encounters--were a bit overly touched by an angel. But the finale, as good TV finales do, captured what the show's essence. Lost is a story about community, connections and interdependence. You live together, it told us, or you die alone. And when you live together--when you share of yourself and make meaning with others--you never die alone, even when you die bleeding out on the floor of a bamboo forest."

Sir John Gilbert wrote after watching Turner paint on Varnishing Day:

"He had been the Royal Academy all the morning, and seemed likely, judging by the state of the picture, to remain for the rest of the day. He was absorbed in his work, did not look about him, but kept on scumbling a lot of white into his picture -nearly all over it. The subject was a Claude-like composition, a bay or harbour-classic buildings on the banks of either side and in the centre the sun. The picture was a mass of red and. yellow in all varieties. Every object was in this fiery state. He had a large palette, nothing on it but a huge lump of flake white; he had two or three biggish hog tools to work with, and with these he was driving the white into all the hollows, and every part of the surface. . . . The picture gradually became wonderfully effective, just the effect of brilliant sunshine absorbing everything and throwing a misty haze over every object. Standing sideway of the canvas, I saw that the sun was a lump of white standing out like the boss of a shield."

Much more at:

Turner and the Masters
Turner et Ses Peintres
Chad W. Post is the director of Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester and Three Percent, a website dedicated to promoting international literature.
:Chad W Post on the WSJ's Speakeasy

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