POMP is so often short-lived, because it necessarily must run headlong into circumstance. And to illustrate that point perfectly, one image this week keeps floating back, as resilient as hope, into my visual consciousness.
The work is called “Commencement,” by Brooklyn-based artist R. Kikuo Johnson for The New Yorker magazine, and at first blush, it can register as simply a leafy seasonal illustration that glides across your awareness as light as whimsy. Then pause a moment and the visual joke hits: A fresh graduate glimpses one possible future, as embodied by the manual labor of the previous graduating class.
Amusing, yes, with a requisite “victim” on which to pin our humor. Ay, there’s the schlub. Yet pause longer on the image, and the exquisite sense of right detail — the layered balance and thoughtful composition — help elevate the work.
Part of the emotional eloquence of the scene is that every subject except our unnerved graduate seems at sun-dappled peace — each looking toward a different focal point with engaged ease. That heightens the singular sense of uncertainty worn on the face of our occupational Benjamin Braddock. It is a solo moment.
Meanwhile, the maintenance grad from the year before is utterly tuned out to the Class of 2016’s fresh plight, as conveyed by his headset. He is the embodiment of even one year’s wisdom. The mortarboards have soared into the branches in jubilant tossed hope; the experienced graduate’s toil now is to literally knock down those hopes. He is grounded, like caps and tassels, by reality. The emblems are now the stuff of waste, and the gravity of life awaits.
Oh well, at least a joyful parent can still hold up the shirt and hold on to fresh projected hopes for a while yet.
Beautifully done, Mr. Johnson.