Artwork: 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte' by Georges Seurat

Sunday in the Park with George: How Art Shapes Our Connection to Space

What began for me as a leisurely viewing of 2021’s Tick Tick… Boom! on a weekend in December turned into a deep-dive induced obsession with the film, the songs and the people featured within it in a matter of weeks. Jonathan Larson’s connection to the art of mentor and composer Stephen Sondheim throughout the film immediately sparked my interest and drew my attention towards Sondheim’s 1984 musical Sunday In The Park With George.  

The musical itself brings life to Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, an impressionist painting by Georges Seurat from the late 1800’s of people gathered at the banks of the river Seine, lying in the grass, donning their best dresses. What has continually fascinated me about this show, is how it brings not only the people within the painting, but also the artist himself, to the foreground, conjuring them to life to explore the narrative’s main conflict: the desire to create and pursue a passion within the arts, and one’s longing for fulfilment in love and relationships. As this story unfolds, the space painted by Seurat in dots on a canvas is replicated through stage design and allows these characters at the conclusion of the first act to freeze in a tableau of the artwork itself, assuming the form of the painting by becoming the art. 

Artwork: ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ by Georges Seurat

There is something so beautiful about the way the show recreates the space painted by Seurat so many years ago, framing the scene in a new way for another audience to see. It pairs the striking visual composition of the artwork with comedic playwriting; as a tree is removed from the canvas, moments later we see the set replicate the scene. But what I love most about Sunday In The Park With George, is how it unveils the deep-rooted obsession we have with spaces that are explored and referenced throughout art, romanticising these locations beyond merely their recreations on stage and screen. The artwork itself has been the subject of enduring fascination following its possession by the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1920’s. It has been referenced on numerous occasions within popular culture: it is the subject of Cameron’s deep gaze in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and is also recreated within promotional material for the seventh season of The Office. Although the space now exists beyond Seurat’s Island on a Sunday, the many interpretations of this artwork only enhance our own experience with it. We ponder what could have been between Dot and George, or we put ourselves in the shoes of Cameron, noticing how detailed the strokes on the canvas are.  

We may very well go to that river, look for that tree, sit in its grass or stare at the colours on the canvas, blending to create another. But what is most beautiful is how art can shape our emotional response to space. We visit filming locations, we look at artworks and we feel something. An ongoing conversation of admiration between old and new. The art of making art.

Article written by Lauren Facci

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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