Bo Bartlett, Homecoming, 1995

As true with many Bartlett works, there is an unsettling and ambiguous narrative in this monumental painting. In the US, Homecoming is a high school event held in early autumn where alumni return to play a football game, sometimes there is a parade, and often there is a dance. A Homecoming queen (and often a king) is crowned. Bonfires are also common, but this bonfire has an effigy sticking out at the top and seems dangerously large, to no one’s notice. Three couples pose for photos in front of the ominous blaze, but the only one smiling is the Homecoming queen – is she just putting that smile on for the camera? Or is she genuinely happy? If so, why do all the others look so resentful? Bartlett has said that he does not want there to be a singular reading of his paintings; he sets the stage and leaves us to invent the narrative for ourselves.

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