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Reviews » The Placement of Characters

The placement of characters in “Falling”

As in many of Jan Wurm’s paintings, this painting includes many characters linked through action, association, or time. In the immediate center of the painting, we have two characters superimposed on each other, the man falling and the dealer; why the one should occupy the center of the painting is clear, but why the dealer does as well is less obvious. On the first level, the narrative of the painting is a man going into debt losing money at a casino. He is then pursued by loan sharks and telephones his wife (or it could be girlfriend), desperate. With no idea where to go, he drops the phone, and plunges through the hotel window to his death.

On this level it is obvious why the man would be in the central forefront of the entire painting. This is the story of his personal tragedy. He is in relatively brighter colors, so that he will stand out in the front: the eye is to be caught with his tragic, pell mell fall, his legs at odd angles, and the phone dangling above him rather than replaced in its cradle. His individual fall is what we are concerned with, what draws our empathy, but there is in fact a greater story going on than his, the story we see when we consider the dealer as central figure of the painting.

Ignoring the falling man, the dealer is surrounded by the pieces of the story. To his right, customers come in, watching over his shoulder are the loan sharks hoods, and somewhere in a room of his casino are the despairing debtors. Everything revolves around him in this larger story in which there are many gamblers who will come to their ruin, many thugs who will scare them out of their minds, and many loved ones to hear the sobbing last words of the broken gamblers. In casino games, the dealer is sometimes called the house, and in this painting, he does indeed represent the casino.

The painting is an indictment of gambling; it is about the millions of individual tragedies which it creates, which it is responsible for. It is remarkable how little moral responsibility is placed on the thugs; their placement, as though looking over the shoulder of the dealer makes them seem like an established part of the casino, like they are purposely there to back up the dealer, the house. All moral judgement falls squarely upon the green tables, the cards, the chips: the gambling establishments which sell unrealistic hopes and their attendant disappointment or worse to their addicted customers. At the end of “Falling,” we are left with a sadness for the anonymous suicide, but an even greater indignation against the casino which will indifferently take advantage of him.

David Pruess
9/30/00