Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Great Escape (official) and The Cooler King

Matthew Green, The Great Escape, 30" x 64", oil on canvas, 2013

In my last post I wrote about all kinds of meanings and parallels regarding my latest work, The Great Escape (above).

There was one reference I forgot to mention: the painting's namesake.

I've seen the movie The Great Escape only once, when I was about 11 years old, and I loved it. If you don't know the movie, it involves Allied prisoners of war in Germany during World War Two, and their plan to orchestrate a mass escape from one of the highest security prisoner of war camps on the enemy side.

The most memorable scene for me is the most climatic, where Captain Virgil Hilts, played by Steve McQueen, almost at the Swiss border, jumps the motorcycle he's riding, becomes entangled in barbed wire, and is re-captured by the Germans and returned to camp. Hilts is able to avoid execution as a spy by showing the Germans his Captain's insignia sewn to the inside of his shirt.

Hilts is dubbed "The Cooler King" by his fellow prisoners, because of his propensity to try and break out of prison. This behavior generally lands him in the cooler, or solitary confinement, which is one of the harshest punishments imposed by the Germans for the most disobedient prisoners.

Most of us are Virgil Hilts. We infuriate our captors with frequent escape attempts, only to be alienated and locked in the cooler once our attempts to free ourselves are discovered. We have no choice. Our desire to live free drives us toward the goal of liberating ourselves from the limits of civilization, expectations, peer pressure, pre-determined concepts of success, and anything else that forces us to suppress our desires and limit our effort to self-actualize.

Realizing our constraints, we dream and strive to separate ourselves from the pack and grow as individuals, try to do something that we want, to live like we want to live, to exist outside of rules imposed on us. We conspire to build our own tunnels, plan our escape routes. Most of these attempts are discovered by the guards.

Our tunnels, like those built by the prisoners in the film, never reach the tree line beyond the prison walls, and only a very select few successfully vault over the barbed wire border fence on our stolen motorcycles. Most who even get that far are usually captured by society and returned to prison to be our own versions of The Cooler King.

We can fight, conspire, dream, connive, or fly below the radar all we want, but the tentacles are almost always there to bring us back in. Once captured, we gladly flash our insignia that shows that we are still willing to comply in order to not be called out as an outsider.

So another painting, this time named after a movie about a quest for freedom, is my latest motorcycle. Will I clear the barbed wire at the border this time?

Excerpt from the film, The Great Escape
The "motorcycle scene"

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