By Owie 21 Comments
WILSON FISK AND THE WHITE PAINTING:
A DETAILED ARTISTIC AND CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS
This is an experiment in writing and disseminating a more academic-style paper through the Vine.
PART 1 OF 3
In the Netflix Daredevil show, Wilson Fisk’s white painting, and the white walls associated with it, play a fairly big part in the storytelling. It’s very unusual for any quote-unquote fine art to be so prominently featured in a movie or TV show unless it’s part of a heist or a biography of an artist, let alone for it to be used so thoughtfully, so I would like to analyze the painting both aesthetically and how it is used within story.
Over the next three posts within this blog thread, I will discuss the actual painting and the two white walls as if all three are paintings, or even as if they are all the same painting, in a sense. I will also tend to call it “the white painting,” instead of Rabbit in a Snowstorm, for reasons described in the second post, below.
In this post, I’ll recount the details of the painting’s appearances in the show, but first, a summary: when Wilson Fisk is a boy, his father tells him to stare at a white wall as a punishment, and think about what it means to be a man. His father then proceeds to beat his mother, upon which Fisk tears himself from the wall and kills his father. When WIlson is older, he buys a painting that reminds him of the wall.* He seems to get some level of comfort from it. It also leads him into a relationship with Vanessa, its dealer, seemingly one of his only mature relationships in his life. When he finally goes to jail, he stares at the wall in his cell as if it were both the original wall and the painting, with a new sense of intensity and anger.
* This is my one unanswered question about the painting—why did Fisk go to the gallery in the first place? Did go there on purpose to buy it, having perhaps seen it in the gallery’s publicity? Did he randomly show up at the gallery by chance, going out to some art openings as other rich people in the city might do for an evening’s entertainment? Did he have some ulterior motive for showing up, like planning to extort the gallery or someone else in the area? I don’t think it was to arrange a “meet cute” with Vanessa; she seems to almost intrude on him when she introduces herself. He does clearly have a refined aesthetic taste, based on his apartment and his music, so perhaps he did just go out for a tour of the local gallery openings.
A DETAILED BREAKDOWN OF THE PAINTING’S SCENES
Times are approximate.
Episode 3: Rabbit in a Snowstorm
Starting at 49:04 in (3:40 remaining)
It is an opening reception for a group show at the Scene Contempo Gallery. Vanessa is strolling through. She sees Fisk staring at the white painting, with the shot centered from a few feet away.
The rest of the exhibition also seems to be pure abstraction, with most of the work consisting of monochromatically-colored canvases of a basically similar size.
Vanessa comes up and says, “There’s an old children’s joke. You hold up a white piece of paper and you ask, what’s this? A rabbit in a snowstorm.” She smiles and laughs, with no response. “Are you interested or just looking?”
“Interested,” he says.
“People always ask me how can we charge so much for what amounts to gradations of white. I tell them it’s not about the artist’s name, or the skill required, not even about the art itself. All that matters is, how does it make you feel?” Her eyes scan back and forth across the painting in an appreciative, searching way.
We finally see his face, which turns to look at her, longingly. “It makes me feel alone.”
They stare at each other. He turns back to the painting, while she continues to look at him.
Episode 4: In the Blood
Starting at 18:40 in (34:21 remaining)
Fisk comes to the gallery to see Vanessa.
V: How are you enjoying Rabbit in a Snowstorm? [It’s unclear if she’s using the title ironically, or if it’s the painting’s real title.]
F: You remember?
V: Of course. It’s one of my favorite pieces.
F: I hung it in my bedroom. It’s the last thing I see every night.
V: That’s either very romantic, or very sad. [smiling]
F: I like to tell myself it’s the former.
V: Don’t we all.
After some stumbling he asks her out.
Episode 5: World on Fire
Starting at 40:22 in (16:09 remaining)
Fisk and Vanessa are talking about friends.
V: So you do have those. And yet the man says he was lonely when he looked at my painting.
F: MY painting.
Episode 8: Shadows in the Glass
Starting at the beginning of the episode
Fisk wakes up after a nightmare and looks at the painting, in a sort of desperate need for calm. Classical music starts to play in the background. The first shot is of Fisk’s face, then it switches to the painting, and then the camera zooms in to a close-up on the painting. Fisk makes an omelette with the music continuing. The painting is part of what makes him feel civilized, under control, calm—“alone” doesn’t really feel like part of what he’s feeling. He feels like himself.
He picks out a black suit with black shirt and his dad’s cufflinks. Then he sees his young self in the mirror, soaked in blood.
Starting at 29:43 in (24:13 remaining)
Fisk wakes up again. Once again, the camera starts with his face, then does a reverse shot to look at the painting, except that this time it zooms out, and out of focus, instead of in. He stares at the painting. This time he looks more sad, wishing for something like love or hope or redemption. Wishing things had been different. It almost feels as if the painting is failing him, he wants it to do more but knows it can’t. He makes an omelette again. He picks out the same clothes. You get more of a feeling of “aloneness” from the process this time—it is sad to be doing it the same every time. He is lonely with himself. Classical music again.
Starting at 35:24 in (18:32 remaining)
Fisk’s father is angry with the young Wilson: “Think of the man you want to be. You sit here, and you stare at that wall. And you think about that. You’re my son. You should be a king, not some fat little pussy.”
The mom shakes her head.
Father: “Sit. What I say? Don’t look at me, look at the wall,” as Wilson looks briefly up at him for guidance. Now Wilson looks at the wall.
Father: “Don’t take your eyes off till I get back.”
The camera focuses on the wall and we see it has a similar texture to the painting.
The mom and dad talk about his loan to a loan shark. Wilson continues to look nervously at the wall. The dad starts beating the mom. Wilson continues to look at the wall, and we see it close up again.
Then we switch to Wilson in the present, staring out the windows of his apartment into the dark night, similarly to how one might stare at a painting. Wesley shows up with Vanessa, wearing white, his emotional savior. At one point they both stare out of (or at) the window together.
Starting at 38:43 in (15:15 remaining)
Wilson’s father continues to beat his mother. Wilson is now crying and staring at the wall. He gets up and kills his father.
Wilson screams “keep kicking him” while hammering in his father’s head, in reference to when his dad made him repeatedly kick a bully.
We see (and Wilson sees) the wall again when he hugs his mom. He is finally alone with his one ally in his life at the time, and for the first time with nothing to interfere with him accessing her; but his father’s murder seems to have created a new distance of a sort between them.
Starting at 47:04 in (6:56 remaining)
Wilson wakes up from a nightmare and looks at the painting again, but this time we don’t see his face in a reaction shot. The painting comes into focus behind him, but then he looks around at Vanessa in his bed almost immediately, and the focus is back on him, and his face. The reaction shot is to Vanessa, not the painting. He doesn’t have to rely on the painting any more. He isn’t alone any more. No music this time—Ben Urich’s voiceover starts instead. Fisk and Vanessa have breakfast together. His solitary habits are no longer a reminder of his lonesomeness. She picks out different clothes for him than what he’s worn before: a grey suit, grey shirt, and cufflinks that are both black and silver. She still wears white; during the press conference she wears a grey coat.
Episode 9: Speak of the Devil
Starting at 20:28 in (37:39 remaining)
Vanessa and Murdock are talking in the gallery.
V: You don’t need sight to appreciate art, but you do need honesty.
M: Sight helps.
V: Sure, but there’s something very intimate in experiencing art through someone else’s eyes.
V: Art isn’t furniture…if you knew exactly what you were looking for you’d just be decorating. Art should speak to you. Move you.
V: This one, for example, one of my favorite pieces. [This is the same thing she said about Fisk’s painting.]
V: Imagine a sea of tonal reds. The color of anger. Of rage. But also the color of the heart. Of love, hope. It strikes a perfect balance between the two.
M: I don’t know, it sounds aggressive.
V: It all depends on your point of view.
M: Maybe something a little less challenging.
Episode 13: Daredevil
Starting at 53:14 in (3:05 remaining)
Fisk settles down onto his bed in his prison cell. He is intense, angry, focused, the ill-intent. We see him staring at the wall from the side, but don’t understand. The camera looks at him directly in the face, zooming in. Then the camera moves behind him, and we see what he sees: another wall, which comes into focus similarly to how the painting came into focus after Fisk slept with Vanessa. The wall takes on new meanings. We see his face in close-up again. The ill-intent.
[Since I will be discussing the “ill-intent” concept a fair amount below, here’s the dialog from that scene, earlier in the episode:
F: There was a man, he was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was set upon by men of ill-intent. They stripped the traveller of his clothes, they beat him, and they left him bleeding in the dirt. A priest happened by, saw the traveller, but he moved to the other side of the road and continued on. And then a Levite, a religious functionary, came to the place, saw the dying traveler, but he too moved to the other side of the road, passed him by. Then came a man from Samaria, a Samaritan, a good man, he saw the traveler bleeding in the road and he stopped to aid him, without thinking of the circumstances or the difficulty it might bring him. The Samaritan tended to the traveller’s wounds, applying oil and wine. He carried him to an inn, gave him all the money he had, for the owner to take care of the traveler. The Samaritan, he continued on his journey. He did this simply because the traveler was his neighbor. He loved his city, and all the people in it.
I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story. It’s funny, isn’t it, how even the best of men can be deceived by their true nature.
Guard: The hell does that mean?
F: It means that I’m not the Samaritan, that I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill-intent, who set upon the traveler, upon a road that he should not have been on.]
SOME OTHER DETAILS ABOUT THE WHITE PAINTING’S ART GALLERY
A few comments on the other art tidbits found during the gallery scenes.
Episode 3: Rabbit in a Snowstorm
The gallery has perhaps the cheesiest name ever, the “Scene Contempo Gallery.” Honestly this name is so unlikely to be used by a New York gallery that it makes me hard to take the rest of the art content of the show seriously, so let’s move on.
The gallery is hosting a group show that features selected work from seven artists, some of whom may be intentional references to real artists:
Eric Blum: there is a real Eric Blum who does abstract painting similar to what is in the show
Isaac Holt: there is a real Isaac Holt on deviantart, but he’s 17 years old, and his work is fantasy sketches, so he doesn’t seem to be an intentional reference
Alan Posner: there is an Alan Posner who was the owner of the iZm art gallery in Bremerton, Washington
Erica Wessmann: there is a real Erica Wessmann who makes some abstract sculptures similar to some seen in the gallery, although her work tends to have more of a conceptual edge
I have searched to see who made the actual white painting seen in the show, but have not found anything. I would be interested to know the artist’s name. We also don’t know which of the above fictional artists is supposed to have painted it within the show’s universe. I am guessing that perhaps one of the people listed above may be the actual artist who painted the prop painting. (Another question is, was it painted specifically for the show, or was it an already-existing painting that was just loaned to the show by an artist?)
Episode 4: In the Blood
We can see the above artists’ complete names more easily.
Episode 9: Speak of the Devil
The gallery has a new show up, it looks a bit post-Cubist, some more general abstraction with a bit of an ‘80s neo-expressionism feel, and some that look a lot like Richard Diebenkorn’s work. It features selected work from:
Mike Crupi: there is a real Mike Crupi who is a documentary photographer
Michael Dave: there is a real photographer named Miki Davcev who uses Michael Dave as a pseudonym, and there is also a real Michael David whose work includes abstract painting like those in the gallery, and finally there is a real Michael David Lynch who has worked on several comic book movies
Jacquie Dore: this is the name of a production assistant on Daredevil
Alex Foreman: this is the name of a production assistant on Daredevil
Lisa Mall: this is the name of a production assistant on Daredevil
Angela Persico: this is the name of a production assistant, but she did not work on Daredevil
Based on how many of these people are either artists or people in the TV/movie industry, presumably Citaire is as well, and probably the other names in the first show too, although I was unable to find out their connection. Anyone who has any information on these people, please let me know!