Tension

John Sloan’s New York City Life series captures a web of contrasting physical forces. In The Show Case he draws a direct visual comparison: the corseted mannequin on the left is perfectly replicated by the figure of the lady on the right, both torsos tense and restricted in form. Sloan places the contrastingly free-flowing figures and clothing of the young girls between these two bound bodies. The girls’ variously-directed gazes link the wealthy lady with her inanimate counterpart, and engage and implicate us, the viewers.

Another variant of the static and constricted silhouette enters the private sphere of The Women’s Page. The smooth style of the newspaper’s line-drawn illustration contrasts with Sloan’s dense cross-hatching and the clutter of the apartment, slovenly in its loosely-draped appearance. The reader’s bare feet are exposed, her right toe tensed, curling inwards as she absorbs the page. This minute but highly relatable physical articulation complements the lived-in feel of the apartment. The contrast between ideal and real female form, comical on the sidewalk of The Show Case, evokes a sense of the unattainable in Sloan’s juxtaposition of the stylised newspaper etching and the woman in her nightgown and cluttered domestic space.

Look closely at how Sloan poses subjects and objects in each etching; their varying states of tension and slackness interact, uniting the portfolio in its evocation of urban dissonance. In Man, Wife and Child, the couple brace against each other, as suspenders, boots, collar and shirt are unbuttoned, their structure and purpose discarded. Elbows bend angrily and reins tighten to avoid the leaping musician in Man Monkey. Craning his neck up awkwardly, a man voyeuristically watches one of many inert sleeping figures in Roofs, Summer Night.

 

Peggy Jones (BA English Literature)

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