By Kwesi Billups
PART I. CHILDHOOD
My initial reaction notes to the piece while I was in the gallery:
Man is narrow-minded, his view limited. The ominous cave from which he has escaped with his Guardian is empty. He has escaped [a world of] perpetual ignorance, bursting into a world of vibrance. But, his view is limited. The Stream of Life [upon which he floats] is shielded by the clouds that cover the peaks of the surrounding mountains, and the flowers promise joy. Cole presents fore, middle, background. Angel is attention catcher.
I found Childhood to be the most visually stimulating part of the series. The contrast between the relative darkness of man’s origin and the light of his beginning journey ascribes profound value to the cave from which the glided boat emerged. The Guardian illuminated the scene with arms of protection surrounding the infantile human, but my eyes could not resist the mesmerizing darkness of the cave, and the implications of its presence within this introduction. The cave and Guardian both stress the depths of man’s ignorance. Not only is Cole’s depiction of mankind a product of infinite darkness, but he is helpless and subject to the will of an angelic being. In his written description, Cole identifies the boat and its implied motion across the Stream of Life as the subject of each painting, but includes aspects that yank the viewer’s attention away from the boat and thrust forward even more questions.