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Carl Dobsky: 'Ship of Fools' at John Pence Gallery

04/21/2015 04:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

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Carl Dobsky, Ship Of Fools, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 108 inches, 2014 - 2015

Carl Dobsky, a realist artist who is also the proprietor of the Los Angeles based Safehouse Atelier, is currently showing his recent six-by-nine-foot canvas Ship of Fools at John Pence Gallery. The painting takes up an entire wall in Pence's Gallery Three, and is accompanied by eight preparatory studies of the painting's characters.

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Carl Dobsky: Photo by Sadie Jernigan Valeri

John Seed Interviews Carl Dobsky

JS: Carl, how did you come to choose this image?

CD: The theme for the work has been around for a long time, but kind of comes into it's own in the 15th and 16th centuries with works by the likes of Hieronymous Bosch and others. It usually depicts a boat without a pilot filled with deranged or people who are kind of oblivious to their situation. In some cases, it has been used as social commentary.

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Ship of Fools (Detail)

JS: In your version, is there social commentary involved?

CD: I wanted to take these elements, but give the theme a personal interpretation. For starters, I didn't want to make it into a social commentary where the viewer or myself was some how looking at it from a privileged point of view where we can pass judgment on the people in the boat. In fact, I wanted they viewer to sympathize with their plight. So, instead of making each person an archetype of a particular social class, I tried to keep them all on the same level, or rather, belonging to no social class in particular.

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Ship of Fools (Detail)

JS: Tell me about how you constructed and organized the image.

CD: To set the stage for their dilemma, I wanted to show them in a situation where they were caught between an ideal vision and a practical situation. In this case, the practical situation is obvious enough; they're about to wash up into the rocks if they can't take care of matters at hand. To show the vision of the ideal, I chose the symbol of the butterfly for it's delicate and fragile beauty.

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Ship of Fools (Detail)

JS: Yes, the butterflies add something unexpected...

CD: The thought to use butterflies came to me after reading about Chuang Tzu's dream where his identity becomes interchangeable with the butterfly. In a similar way we often identify ourselves by our ideals or dreams. It also has the connotation of daydreaming from the expression "chasing butterflies" where one is chasing something that aimlessly flutters about but cannot catch it and is always out of reach.

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Ship of Fools (Detail)

JS: How did you orchestrate the emotions of the characters?

CD: The boat taking on water and approaching the rocks is perhaps a bit too obvious of a symbol, but I suppose sometimes obvious is the way to go. Between these two, the butterflies and the rocks, these people are all stuck on a boat and their fates are tied together whether they realize it or not. But instead of passing judgement on these fellows I wanted to focus on a range of reactions that people would have when caught between these two poles moving from a kind of rapture to panic.

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Ship of Fools (Detail)

JS: How long did it take you to complete this painting?

CD: The work developed over a period of a year. I have always wanted to tackle more complicated narrative subjects, and for the first time since who-knows-when, I've had a stable enough situation to go ahead and paint something without worrying about whether or not it would go to a gallery, or if it would sell. So I decided to go for it. I hope to be doing more of this sort of thing in the future. It has been a really fun experience and one of the most rewarding things I've painted to date.

April 10 - May 2
John Pence Gallery
750 Post Street
San Francisco, California 94109
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm (Mon - Fri),
10 am to 5 pm (Sat)