Monday, October 24, 2011

John Gall's "Happy Wanderer" enlivens the MAPC Fall 2011 Members' Show

This precariously playful piece by John D. Gall shows its main character front and center - a boy blowing on his makeshift horn - looking  like a  a Little Rascals' version of the Pied Piper as he glances back for his followers. His environment is full of curiosities and dangers. On the left of the image there is a man marching off a cliff on the hill behind him, a rattlesnake seemingly ready to strike just at the boy's feet, a vulture hovering in the tree above his head, a rope wrapped around a forlorn chair with a sharp-tipped anchor sitting on the seat, and a bulls-eye perched high up on the tree above him, with a few meager attempts to hit the target.

Yet, the boy's preoccupation with unseen followers behind him distracts his attention from the warning sign telling him not to pass the crumbling footbridge imminently in front of him, otherwise he will surely fall to his death. The boy's wandering nature makes him oblivious to the rope from the chair that  has ensnared his leg, which we could hope would save him, except we see the anchor is attached to nothing which would save him.

On the other side of the footbridge, a sign saying "Keep Out" warns him yet again that there is danger awaiting  if he should cross the bridge as is evidenced by the weighty beehive swarming with angry bees waiting to drop on his head. The tower in the distance is abandoned and empty of life, yet a man in the distance seems to be pulling it to the precipice with a rope. The hot air balloons carrying more horns, like the one the boy is playing, suggest more forms of entertainment await him if he can cross to the other side.

All of this imagery, symbolism, and the cartoonesque drawing style which Gall employs stems from an earlier era where the symbolism associated with work and play, productivity and folly, harken back to the artists of the 1400-500s in Northern Europe; namely Pieter Breughel the Elder, Martin Schongauer, Jan Breughel II and Hieronymous Bosch. Gall's "Happy Wanderer" aligns itself with the moralistic messages of Breughel's  prints and paintings. His imagery doesn't have the playfully fantastical elements of Bosch or Schongauer, but the overall tone of the piece says 'watch out', 'look where you're going', 'don't be foolish!' which is very much in tune with Breughel the Elder's oeuvre. In fact, the tower in the background is eerily similar to Jan Breughel II's "A Coastal landscape w/ Fishermen with Their catch by a Ruined Tower"
We watch anxiously the piper's demise and want to reach out to stop his happy, blissful wandering, but alas we are only the spectator and can only learn from his misfortune.

John D. Gall's "Happy Wanderer" enlivens the Mid America Print Council show at Benedictine University and makes one crave more of his thought-provoking work.. Thru January 6, 2012. For more information, contact To find out more information about the Mid America Print Council check out their website at

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