Spoilers for 1x22 through the end of the season… Calvinahobbes asked me what I thought about Irene’s paintings. Man, I didn’t think I would have much to say, but I went back and looked, and we actually see quite a few of them, more than I thought, and I ended up having a lot to say. (And let me just start by saying wow, if they did even SOME of this on purpose, I’m *even more* impressed than I am by them introducing Irene by literally putting her in between a miraculous savior and a prostitute who’s turning her back on the viewer.)
Okay so. When we saw the paintings at the end of 1x22, when we still thought Irene was the abducted victim, I pretty much thought one thing, “look how empty they are.” No people. I wondered if maybe she hadn’t seen ANYBODY since she was abducted, since there was that huge fence and locked gate around the house— had she been left there and threatened/forced not to leave, all alone? It seemed odd. All we knew about her artistic taste at that point was that she restored Renaissance paintings, and Renaissance paintings usually have people. Even landscapes usually had little people in them somewhere, and if not people, at least cows or birds or some kind of living creature. But Irene’s paintings don’t.
I didn’t go as far to really question it at the time, but now it strikes me, if you were so alone (and never saw another person’s face, just a mask, for the whole time) wouldn’t you paint people? Even if you didn’t have models to paint from, you could copy other paintings from memory. Wouldn’t you want to see other people’s faces? She drew Sherlock when she was at the brownstone, why are there no people in her paintings?
In a sense, a painting of an empty room, or a house on an empty street can still be a painting *about* people— looking at the right painting, you can imagine a person could walk into this empty room or turn onto that empty street at any moment. Painting a street from street level shows us things meant for people: doors, signs, flower boxes, trash cans, evidence of human life. Think of every different realization of the sitting room at 221b— or the real life version at the Sherlock Holmes museum. All the textures, all the tools and books and clothes and things Sherlock has loved and collected. It’s a beautiful portrait of Sherlock, even if he’s not there at the moment.
But the kind of places Moriarty was painting aren’t like that. They’re totally empty, totally desolate. They’re so still, they could be post-apocalyptic, but even that doesn’t quite describe their particular loneliness. If there are *any* human-scale details in this world, they’re invisible— and maybe it’s just the perspective, but where *is* everybody? There are no words on the buildings, no address numbers, no billboards or neon signs, no flags or awnings, no graffiti. No telephone poles or wires— no one’s talking. There are windows but every one is the same, none are picked out with curtains or lights, none of them are half-open or broken. There are smokestacks but no smoke. Look at the dark night-time cityscape— not a single window in that entire skyscraper is lit up. It doesn’t seem like there are any streetlamps— all those little glimmers are just reflected moonlight. And in the half-finished painting, look how claustrophobically close all the buildings are to each other, all clustered together. People don’t fit in these paintings, there’s no place for them. There’s not even any birds in the trees.
And this could be a product of perspective, but I don’t think any of the paintings even show *roads.* And even if it did, even if there were little cars and or people moving around at street level, we wouldn’t be able to see them— we wouldn’t be *looking* at them. The point of view of most of the paintings is from somewhere high up, looking down, but not looking down at a sharp angle, at the ground. Not looking down at the people or the things built on a human scale. Those things are irrelevant. This POV is looking at bigger things.
I also like the repeated motif of smokestacks, including one in the painting Irene’s working on when they come in. On first viewing I thought it was a monument, like an obelisk, but on closer look they’re definitely smokestacks, and there are at least four different paintings in the room that have smokestacks in them. They’re almost like Moriarty’s self-portraits: standing taller than anything else, totally hollow, indicating the presence of both industry and destruction. Smoke *and* fire.
And then there’s the drawings that she puts up in her room in the brownstone— they’re different, but not quite different enough. Two portraits of Sherlock, one of a tree front and center instead of at the edges, some perspectives on the brownstone— or maybe this is what Irene can see from her windows, the buildings next door and across the street? Anyway, it’s doors and stairs and people, drawn at a human scale, from the usual human perspective, not hovering far above them. Those pictures, of the steps and the street, have more personality (to me) than any of the paintings. But… well.
First off, obvious conclusions are obvious: Moriarty’s worlds are empty because she’s a sociopath. There aren’t any people in the world because there aren’t any people who matter at all to her. I don’t think Irene *could* paint good portraits of people if she tried. You have to at least want to try to understand people in order to make good art about them, and as Joan pointed out— unfortunately for Moriarty, controlling people isn’t the same thing as understanding them.
Case in point, Moriarty’s pictures of Sherlock— technically good, but dull, uncreative, like police sketches of a suspect. They don’t tell us anything *about* Sherlock, and they don’t tell us anything interesting about the artist looking at Sherlock. Why not draw the curve of his shoulder and neck, the way his head cocks as he’s looking at something fascinating? Or try to catch one of his gestures. A smile or a frown. Why not draw some of his things left on a table, like a still life— anything but this flat, still, dead way of pinning his features down without catching his personality, with his head floating in space and no indication of a body. But that’s all Moriarty knows how to do. She’s so firmly controlled, so guarded against giving her true feelings away, that these very generic, mechanic sketches are all she can do, even when she’s back with Sherlock, trying to loosen up and show some life. I don’t think she even realizes there’s anything wrong with her drawings of Sherlock. Maybe that’s why Sherlock rips those two down specifically and crumples them up, because once he knows what Moriarty is, he can see her drawings for what they are— not a portrait of the artist’s beloved, but a scientific illustration of a specimen under a microscope.
This is amazing.