In the late nineties I heard an episode of NPR's This American Life about life in prison. The segment that stuck with me was from a former inmate who wound up in the prison infirmary, where a piece of red thread somehow ended up on his infirmary blanket. The gist of the segment was that the only color the inmates ever saw was grey -- the clothes, the walls, the floors and ceilings, the food, the people -- and that seeing this single, unexpected sliver of color was the most powerful, most exquisite good luck a prisoner could have. When he was released into our world of constant saturation, he had a hard time handling it psychologically, but saw that the rest of us, out here all the time, are blind to the world of constant brightness, beauty, and stimulation that we take for granted every minute.
Photographer Richard Doherty's current exhibition at Oak Cliff's mighty fine arts gallery, titled Absurd Beauty, made me revisit those riveting few minutes of radio. It's ordinary stuff in these pictures, stuff like bolts, trees, door frames, chairs, all the detritus of your daily existence that does not register on your visual radar.
There's a bright pink sticky note stuck on an otherwise empty wall which could be your own home's spiritual equivalent of a loose red thread on a prison blanket. There is a photograph where random bolts are backlit from the sun under a squiggly awning while popping from the top of a wall the color of hot dog mustard and this photograph has so much rhythm, so freaking much going on inside it, that I felt like I maybe wanted a cigarette, yet I do not now and never have smoked. That could be somewhere on Maple Avenue for all I know, and it has gone tragically unappreciated.
Stop looking at this monitor for a second and look around the room you're in. It's gorgeous, baby. You just have to notice it.
Richard Doherty: Absurd Beauty runs through September 16th at mighty fine arts, 419 North Tyler in Dallas.
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Images courtesy Richard Doherty and mighty fine arts.