Sometimes you wake up and the world seems awry, like the picture on the wall is slightly askew and it has startled you into a momentary disorientation as to whether the world is tilted or the picture. This morning was such a morning. I woke up with the distinct sensation of unease like a throbbing under the seams of everything was palpable.
Then I saw this image, a painting by Francis Bacon, on a friend’s Facebook page:
My first impression was of a human body with a rabbit face, the eye being the first thing that caught my attention. Perhaps it was the closer detail of the eye in comparison to the rest of the impressionistic style of slashes of drab color. The friend who posted it saw an elephant immediately, which makes sense given the grey trunk-like extension in the middle of the image. It also comports with what is on his mind according to many of his posts, which support the eradication of ivory poaching and elephant suffering globally. So why did I see the rabbit face when another side of the optical illusion is the human bent in desolation matching the dread of the colors chosen? The rabbit eye is actually an ear that draws the viewer’s eye to the hidden face obscured by the angle of the painter’s view vis a vis his subject.
Of course the greens and browns that hit me immediately may have associated nature scenes to me, evoked from the colors alone. Maybe that’s why rabbit was conjured up before human. Or maybe I am feeling more like the rabbit these days, skittish and hunted, vulnerable. But the rabbit head atop a human-like body is the original dissonance–a nauseating angst of discord–I experienced in the nano second of mis-recognition, something in accordance with the strangeness of the day, a flash of something barely seen at the periphery of vision that flies past, something threatening and ugly.
That must be why I saw the rabbit atop the man and why my friend saw an elephant. It is what we imposed on the image from each our separate mindsets at the very moment of the eye’s placement on and registering of the image.
We do that to people too, obviously. We see them for the first time or for the four hundredth time and color them with the preoccupation or mood of the moment. We coat them with our predispositions and attribute motivations and traits to them based on the colors of our own palettes instead of seeing who they are in that space of estrangement, like mistakenly seeing a rabbit head atop a human body, which causes the looker to stop, readjust her vision, and focus more closely to actually “see” who stands before her.