The sentences, “The artist paints the wall with cracks,” and “The cotton canvas is usually made of grows in Mississippi,” are the kind of sentences you have to read twice.
They are examples of a linguistic trick called a “garden path sentence.” This persnickety species of sentence takes a surprising turn. On first read, they seem to be headed in one direction, but one puzzling word reroutes its meaning; the reader realizes that the sentence was actually going a different direction the whole time.
Our piece of the week, Scott Troxel’s acrylic painting, Zanzibar (40x30), is quite like a garden path sentence.
What could these syntactic shapes-shifters and an abstract painting, whose namesake is a Tanzanian archipelago, possibly have in common?
Well, that goes back to Zanzibar’s story.
As a blank canvas – a mere babe as far as art surfaces go – Troxel’s original project set out as a housewarming gift for his parents. They had just moved into a new condo and Troxel’s mother, who has always taken pride in her son’s work, insisted that he paint a piece for their home.
Zanzibar was envisioned as the prize grandbaby and shining star to be showcased in the new living room. Troxel’s mother hoped for something “hard edge,” “geometric” and colored with burgundy, grey and tan.
You’ll notice that Zanzibar, with its expressive textures, flowing lines, and bright colors, is neither hard edge, geometric nor within the prescribed color palate.
“I love how that just happens,” Troxel says.
Like most creatures with parental expectations, Zanzibar took its own course – a visionary volta.
Scott pushed out of the painting’s prescriptions. He describes the liberation: “as I let go and just painted, something remarkable happened, I started to really like the direction of the painting.”
Absolutely certain his mother would not like it, Troxel called her to break the news of the painting’s alternate plan. In keeping with her supportive nature, she laughed and said she could wait for the next one.
“Zanzibar may be the most fun I have ever had making a painting,” says Troxel, perhaps with the same adrenaline-pumped tone of a curfew-pushing teenager.
Even Troxel’s friends sustain the analogy of Zanzibar as a misunderstood rebel. They have used words like “jagged” and “chaotic” to describe the work. However, Troxel says, “I don’t see that.”
Whether the painting is the acrylic expression of a lingering teenage rebelliousness or the kindred energy of a garden path sentence’s surprise, the final product is its own autonomous beauty.
Troxel, an avid traveler, chose the title of the painting because the new color palate reminded him of brightly colored flags billowing in the hot, arid air of an African bazaar.
Zanzibar’s story is a metaphor for life’s unexpectedness.
“I feel the piece translates the complexities of life and the daily struggle to make sense of it all. In all that struggle there is beauty and color, no matter how jagged,” says the artist.