By: Jacob Hales
On a canvas of tough, fibrous, papyrus paper and colors that mimic Picasso’s Blue Period work, this piece, known as the Fledgling, was painted by Jeffrey Schweickert. It features three abstract birds, all in different stages of emotion, two looking to the left and one staring at the viewer. Blue and orange paint drench the canvas, while the other colors (greens and pinks) compliment the strange bird-like figures. Now looking at the painting from afar, it looks like a preschooler had a midlife existential crisis and splattered washable paint on a piece of construction paper, hoping it would answer the searing and never-ending pain. Alas, it was painted by an English teacher at Heritage High School during a staff meeting. But what was his motive?
Upon analyzing the painting, it is clear that this is an abstract piece. Odd shapes and figures, as well as the strange color pallette, point to this assumption. Abstract art is not synonymous with chaotic design; it conveys hidden and deep emotional meaning. After all, what is the motive of any abstract artist? Mr. Schweickert is a very difficult man to understand, his sense of humor is similar to that of an 80-year-old Vietnam war veteran. To be described in a single word: bearable. Does this painting, perhaps, depict part of Schwickert’s darkest moments in childhood? Did Timmy Fletcher steal all his lunch money and kick him to the ground? Did his mother make him watch C-Span for hours on end? Did his father make fun of his music taste? Let’s delve deeper.
Perhaps this painting is not about Schweickert’s dark and mysterious past. Maybe it’s about his unforeseeable future. The birds all seem to be looking off into the horizon. In surrealism, looking off into the distance represents lust and longing, longing for something that perhaps will never come. A better life, a better paternal relationship, better pay—all possibilities. Enough rambling, let’s talk about the story behind the painting.
It’s a cloudy afternoon. Children play in the distance as a duck-like figure touches down in a lone pond. This is the fledgling, a deformed, duck-shaped bird of paradise, he has seen things…terrible things. He looks around, surveying the landscape around him. “Cacaw!” he screeches, in hopes of finding another one of his kind. But alas, nothing. He tries again, “Cacaw!” No such luck. Our protagonist looks down in utter despondency, the fledgling is the last of his kind. He sees his reflection in the cold, black water, he remembers the day it all went wrong.
For over a millennia, the fledgling’s ancestors dwelled on a small island off the coast of Sumatra. The fledgling and his family lived in peace, until the trappers came. Giant men with cages and nets rampaged the island in search of rare species to sell to foreign markets. His wife, his kids, his friends—all taken away. “Kerploosh!” A fish jumps out of the pond, breaking the flashback. What is he going to do? Where will he end up? He looks into the eyes of you, the viewer, and says, Will you help me?”