Tretchikoff – Melon Boy

The fabulous folks, Jen and Gough from Wowie Zowie came over on Wednesday night to buy some West German Pottery for their wonderful shop. They had very kindly brought us a gift:

Tretchikoff - Watermelon Eater
Tretchikoff – Melon Boy

It’s actually signed by Tretchikoff himself and has a good little back story to it. Wowie Zowie bought it from an old woman who comes into their shop often. They described her as being a bit of a ‘scenester’ back in the day. She bought the print and had it signed by Tretchikoff when he visited Manchester in the 1970s to do a signing at, what we think, was Fenwick’s Department store. Very often with these pictures, we have no idea who or how many people owned it before we did, so it’s lovely to have the story of the original owner with this one.

Like all of the retro and vintage things we own, I did the usual quick internet search to see what I could find out about the ‘Melon Boy’ print before posting it. It seems that this particular picture is one of Tretchikoff’s more controversial. See here and here for two sides to the debate. In a nutshell, this painting, and others by Tretchikoff, has been criticised as a racist piece of work. The connotations of a young black boy with a watermelon are possibly lost on a white woman from England, but many people in America – where the associations are the strongest it seems – find this picture and its peers uncomfortable viewing. The curator of the Tretchikoff exhibition in South Africa, Andrew Lamprecht, argues that these associations are not apparent in South Africa (as in England), and if anything, Tretchikoff ‘was accused of critiquing the government’s policies’ (http://www.mahala.co.za/art/deadly-serious/, 5th July, 2011) through his paintings.

It’s an interesting debate.

I see a fantastically joyous child and the picture makes me happy; as I’m sure it does many other people. Part of me thinks if you see anything more than this in it, read into a racist undertone or something similar, what does that actually say about you? Or is a stereotypical image that has been perpetrated within fairly recent history to the detriment of some people, and therefore should rightfully be abhorred? Art is meant to provoke discussion and debate.

“I am interested in people thinking about that and, if they wish, taking pleasure or not in his work. I do want them to talk and discuss and argue, just as they did in his day.” Andrew Lamprecht, mahala.co.za

What do you think or feel about this? Let me know via the comments. Either way, I’m happy with our fantastic gift and it will take pride of place next to our other beautiful Tretchikoff prints.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mimi says:

    I’m with you in that as an image it conveys nothing but innocence and joy. The boy’s smile reminds me of happy times as a child in Kenya, where being the white girl made me the odd one out, but that never mattered. Having said that, art is meant to make us think, so thank you for posting about it.

  2. sue says:

    As a child who was born during the 1950’s American Baby Boom, I never thought I would see a black man elected president of the United States and I was so happy for my country. If this picture makes people reflect on the waste and evil of idiotic stereotypes, than it serves a positive purpose. How ridiculous that some narrow minded, ignorant people can put a negative spin on such a sweet picture of a joyful youngster. I know we can’t forget the past but I have hope that someday in the future people will just see this for what it is – a child eating a refreshing summer fruit..

    You enjoy it for what it means to you and to the artist and other loving people. Can I hope that maybe our postive viewpoint will disarm the old hatred and the old meanings?

  3. Clare says:

    The first thing I thought of is that song Watermelon Man!! Tretchicoff was fantastic and it does seem in the first link you showed that the first person wrote a massive essay despite having only just heard of him. It’s a great image ignore what psuedo intellectual wannabe art critics say. The second link seemed fairer. Personally I think they’re reading too much into it. xxx

  4. Natalie says:

    I think you would have to ask black South Africans what they thought since that is where he lived and painted at this time. It’s like how white people ask each other if golliwogs are offensive.

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