Essay, Research Paper: "Chance Meeting" By Martin Lewis


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Meeting' is a dry point etching print by Martin Lewis and was created in the
early 1930's. The subjects are two figures, male and female, who have happened
upon each other in the setting of a public sidewalk at the entrance of a
storefront. It may be a dichotomy in terms to call the piece, "Idealized
Urban Realism," though Lewis' work does harmonize well with the Urban
Realist movement surfacing in this period with artists such as Edward Hopper. It
also has a very idealized and stylistic quality not unlike the work of artists
like Roy Liechtenstein in a much later time period. At a glance, 'Chance
Meeting' is a simple work intended to tell a story with minimal detail and it is
difficult to distinguish any definite pattern in the composition. With careful
inspection however, the viewer can discover an order in the placement of
objects, the existence of symmetry, and perhaps a much deeper meaning to the
piece through the interpretation of symbolism. The palate used in the piece is
simply black and white, with the exception of the illusion of shades of gray
created with the shading technique, cross-hatching. This intensifies the use of
light and shadow in what definitely could be called chiaroscuro. The presence of
a single, intensely bright directional light creates areas of extreme contrast
that could be called tenebrism. An extreme variety of lighting techniques can be
found, as some objects are lit from the side, and others are almost completely
backlit, creating more of a silhouette than a distinguishable three-dimensional
shape. Shadows in the recesses of the male figure's face starkly oppose
highlights upon his brow and jaw line. Lewis seems to be experimenting with what
might be realistic lighting conditions at night on a typical city street, and
exaggerating the results in the interest of style. An area of focus is created
in the foreground by the intensity of light falling off abruptly as distance
increases. Balance in lighting is achieved with the occasional splash of light
in a reflective surface, and the existence of smaller, less accentuated lights
in the background of the print. The piece derives a lot of its realism from the
textures on the surfaces of objects. The pavement has a pattern in it that it
possibly the result of its cement tiles being cast in wooden molds, leaving
behind the impression of the grain. Some of the tiles are cracked and stained,
giving the effect of a partially worn and aged public sidewalk. The glass in one
of the structures is evidently glossy as the reflections of street lamps and
automobile headlights can be seen in its surface. Cloth in the canopies on the
buildings and the clothing of the subjects is very naturally wrinkled in relaxed
areas and creased where it is pulled taught. These more organic shapes and
textures help to balance the strict geometry and texture of the almost
completely architectural background. A variety of very accurately portrayed
objects fill the space with interesting, yet not distracting detail. The signage
in and around the shops is not only visible, but also legible. It is actually
possible to read some of the signs. The book cart in front of the shop bears a
hand drawn sign that appears to be a square of cardboard torn out of a box and
is precariously seated at an off angle to it's makeshift base. All of this
meticulous attention to detail aids in creating a sense of realism in the print.
In the print's era, these objects also probably served to create a sense of
familiarity for the viewer, who was probably used to seeing similar signage and
objects in the physical world. In retrospect, the antiquity of these artifacts
adds a degree of interest to the scene and perhaps a bit of nostalgia for some.
A sense of depth and space is created by the use of one point linear
perspective. The orthogonals lead off of the picture plane to the left with the
vanishing point out of sight by a considerable distance. Multiple lines that
define the architecture widen to the right creating a fanlike pattern that draws
the viewer's attention to the subjects and the detail in the foreground of the
print. A definition of order and balance surfaces when we begin to examine the
shapes created by the long shadows cast by the light radiating from the window
of the storefront. These shadows find their angles in their own sort of
vanishing point located at the light source somewhere to the inside the building
and out of sight. The placement of this light source almost mirrors the
vanishing point on the opposing side. The overlapping of lines stemming from
these two points creates a sort of diamond shape typically associated with
two-point perspective. At this point we can see that several other objects in
the scene also conform to this diamond shape. Draped lengths of cloth suspended
from the canopies of the shops seem to lean into the upper inward sloping angle,
While the subjects themselves fit into the geometry of the lower angles. The
symmetry of these angles almost frames a point between the two main subjects,
where in addition to a sign advertising newspapers, perhaps a sort of understood
emotional magnetism is rooted. The subjects almost seem to be physically
affected by the magnetism between them, and their bodies appear to be drawn
toward each other. Lewis accomplishes this in a subtle way, and neither of the
subjects appears to be unnaturally contorted. The male subject looks somewhat
relaxed and is shifting his weight a bit into a stylized variation on the
classical contrapposto pose. The female subject forces her hip out to one side
and tilts her head a bit, posing in a way that might have been considered
attractive for a young woman in the early 1930's in America. Their clothing is
of some interest because in the absence of adequate lighting, we might not have
a more reliable indication of age. Both figures are clothed in what was probably
considered very casual clothing for the era. The female figure's dress is
somewhat shorter and more fitted than it would be if she were older and more
conservative. The Male figure's collar is unbuttoned and his sleeves and pant
legs are rolled up. His hair appears to be somewhat disheveled. From these
details we can assume that they were probably in their late teens or early 20's,
as it would be frowned upon for people of older age to dress this way in this
somewhat socially conservative era. In the background of the print, we see two
additional figures, also a man and a woman. The two are standing very close to
one and other, and appear to be engaged in an intimate conversation. From a
literal perspective, one might draw the conclusion that this second couple
represents the popularity of the concept of meeting one's mate and,
"falling in love". It might have been a musing of many Americans in
this era that the streets of urban America were filled with young attractive
teenagers, courting, dating, and preparing for marriage. From a more symbolic
perspective, it is feasible that this second pair of figures actually represents
the same couple we see in the foreground, now "further down the road,"
or further along in time. The two are now engaged in the rituals of becoming
more intimate. The road itself can be seen as a symbol of the path of fate for
these two characters, as it vanishes off of the picture plane into the
uncertainty of the future. Contradictory to most Urban Realist works, 'Chance
meeting' seems to present a rather idealized and innocent view of the era, yet
aesthetically, it is a fairly realistic portrait of urban city life in America's

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