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1: Captain Obed Architeuthis


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In 1998, artist Skot Olsen painted "Captain Obed Architeuthis," and introduced a figure into his work that has now become a recurrent, nearly obsessional motif. Captain Obed bobs in a row-boat, his head pinched between a rising sea and a descending sky. The background shoves Obed against the picture plane, a flattening the Captain's body can sustain, since there's no right arm to get in the way, only a stump. His cheek wears a chain of sucker-ring scars and he clenches scurvy-ravaged teeth, perhaps in the enjoyment of a small measure of power over his old tormentor: a sad little squid slops over the rim of the tin below his legs. Framed in the right-hand panel of the painting is Architeuthis itself, rendered beautifully and without affectation, a single tentacular club trailing out of view. The Architeuthis is as beautiful as Obed is ugly, fluidly and confidently painted, somewhat to the detriment of the Obed panel, which appears labored by comparison. It's as if Olsen painted the Capatin to justify painting a beautiful squid.

We're in Vengeful Ahab territory, and the two-panel device is appropriate for a grudge of Biblical proportions, echoing the old diptych format (twin-paneled, hinged paintings, traditionally religious in theme). The viewer will also think of the sequential panels of a comic book's narrative, and it's a natural association, given the form and Olsen's background as a trained comic-book artist, but the narrative is slippery. Was the little squid in the tin the offspring of Architeuthis, skimmed out by Obed for bait? The doors of the dock-side buildings are boarded shut: has the town been cursed...
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