In Picnic Day, Diana Rosa’s mixed-media artwork, a man and a woman are having a very complicated picnic. We join them in a pine forest, where the two figures recline stiltedly before a table of watermelons and bananas. The figures are conjoined at the head and their bodies splay outwardly and, notably, away from each other. They create a pyramidal structure that echoes through the background trees. As the eye travels along both parallels, it asks “are they coming together or separating apart?” The answer remains ambiguous. But, the context clues are worrisome. For they burdened their picnic basket with a grave omen: two different types of fruit.
Fruit is the paragon of fundamental differences. When two things are so different they are beyond comparison they are likened to “apples and oranges.” This goes beyond English; the fruit-based rhetoric is pervasive. The most common form of the idiom is “apples and pears” and it is used in Danish, Dutch, German, Spanish, Swedish, Croatian, Czech, Romanian, Hungarian, Italian, Slovene, Luxembourgish, Siberian, and Turkish. It seems that using fruit to demonstrate incompatibilities is as human an impulse as consuming the fruits themselves.
With this, we return solemnly to our picnickers in the forest, whose diverse tastes in fruit is foreboding. Visually, the watermelons and bananas are arranged as their edible counterparts. To a romantic viewer’s dismay, they are “watermelons and bananas.”
Judging the fate of a relationship by the contents of a picnic basket would be harsh and dramatic in any other circumstance. However, in a painting by Diana Rosa it acknowledges the complexities and rich symbolism she ingrains in every canvas. The experience of the painting would be damningly limited if “watermelons and bananas” were read as watermelons and bananas. All of Diana’s paintings of couples are equally laden with visual analogies, idiomatic playfulness, and ambiguous doubling. In very few details, she manages to convey the mechanisms, economies, and weaknesses of a relationship.
Hotel Room is another example of Diana’s clever craftsmanship. This piece portrays a midnight rendezvous at a city hotel. A man and a woman sit upright on a bed. The man’s exceptionally long and striped tie drapes over the woman’s lilac-colored dress. The woman’s hand is reaching out toward the tie as if grasping a leash (the metaphor is complete with the man’s prominent collar). This establishes a slanted structure of power and control between the individuals, which complicates the relationship and offsets the balance.
In the background, a window opens out onto a city. The details suggest that the window reveals a topsy-turvy public analog of the private moment transpiring indoors. Just as the hotel room reads figure-figure-light source (the overhead light), the window scene reads structure-structure-light source (the moon). The parallel is substantiated visually. First, the antennaed semicircle atop the left “male” building repeats the striped pattern of the male figure’s tie. Also, the blotchy blue color of the hotel wall carries over to the outside world as the night sky. The painting is working on two levels. Both the fruit in Picnic Day and the window scene in Hotel Room demonstrate Diana’s sharp use of details to comment and elaborate on the focal points of her scenes.
In Boat Trip, a couple navigates through a beige world. Though they are in the same boat, they are not “in the same boat.” The man strokes the woman’s hair. The woman strokes the boat. A single verb has fallen on its own sword. The two actions are incompatible. Both individuals seriously impinge on the other’s goals. (The writer of this blog post is a retired oarswoman who can confirm that hair touching will negatively impact boat speed and the rower’s ability to propel the boat. The writer can only imagine the same is true vise-versa).
In addition to this oddly divergent date itinerary, Diana leaves compositional clues that suggests things are, well, rocky. Following the pattern established by the fruit of Picnic Day and the buildings of Hotel Room, the two fish at the bottom of the canvas are not just fish. They are facing different directions – one is going upstream, one is going downstream— suggesting there is literally and figuratively conflict “under the surface.” And if that idiom does not suffice, direct your attention to the right side of the composition where there is a plant that is “growing apart.”
A rowboat is the perfect inverse of a bathtub: one keeps water in, one keeps water out. Unfortunately, the couple in The Royal Bath is met with equally troubled waters. In this piece, a pirate (complete with an eye patch and bandana) and a queen (complete with a crown and pearls, though incomplete with any clothing) share a bath. The obvious division is one of class and rank. A lustful affair between Her Majesty The Queen and a lowly seafarer! This simply could not be. Yet, despite taking very different career paths, they have ended up together in the same bathtub.
On a relatively subtler level, they are littered with visual oppositions. The pirate is characterized by asymmetry and incompletion; whereas the queen is characterized by symmetry and completion. The pirate’s symbols are plentiful: one earring, one eyepatch, one raised arm, an asymmetrical bandana, an asymmetrical kerchief, two-toned lips. Even his short-sleeved shirt neither fully clothe him, nor leave him fully bare. The queen is a completely different case. In addition to her symmetrical haircut, complete set of pearls, and full commitment to nudity, she is a metonymy for her sovereign nation and her crown is a metonymy for her. Every aspect of her portrayal is all-encompassing. And, every aspect of his is divided or skewed. Besides bathwater, they have nothing in common.
Through doubling and inverting, Diana macro- and micro-cosmically reinforces the relationship between all the couples in her paintings. There is a greater power at work. Whether chalked up to “the universe,” love’s proverbial blindness, or cupid’s erring arrow, the magnetism between a couple is a force greater than individual wills, obstacles, and oppositions.
For every reason, the couples in Diana’s paintings should not be together. Their worlds are made of iterations of their unsuited-ness. Yet despite their obstacles, they are kept together in bathtubs and rowboats, and immortalized together in paint. The men and women are marked by their incompatibility but forever joined together. They are apples and oranges.