A fast-running hare leaps across our path of vision in a forest clearing. Dense trees frame the animal against the beautiful colors of a twilight sky. Three arrows have lethally impaled it. The wounds are bleeding and spatter the animal's furry coat with blood. What makes this scene fantastical, although the artist renders it in realistic detail, is that the hare is crying. Tears flood from its eye, one droplet rests on its leg. A small dog-eared piece of paper curiously hangs in the trees above. Sprinkled with tears and blood, it serves as a banner with the word beso—Spanish for kiss. Is this a love letter? Has love been spurned?
Fred Stonehouse's painting is filled with references that bring his heartrending scene to life. The Spanish title complements the artist's magic realism. This approach, which uses realist detail to create dream-like worlds, is a major style in Latin American arts and literature. Stonehouse's painting recalls the famous self-portrait of the Mexican modernist artist Frida Kahlo as a wounded deer riddled with arrows. The impaled Saint Sebastian in Christian art is echoed in this painting and gives it a religious aura. But the painting inevitably remains an unanswered riddle.
Fred Stonehouse, Untitled (beso/kiss), 1992, acrylic on panel, 36 x 48 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Purchase, through Rudolph and Louise Langer Fund. 1992.0.34 © Fred Stonehouse.
Fred Stonehouse with his dog Popo. Photograph by Jenny Bohr Photography. Courtesy of the artist.