An Analysis of Walter Ellison's Painting, "Train Station" (1935)
G. Stolyarov II
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2005 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it received over 6,500 page views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page.
Walter Ellison's 1935 painting, Train Station, is an attempt to make visible the differences in attitude present among whites and African-Americans of Ellison's time concerning their perceptions of the North and South of the United States. The white people entering the gateways to the left are bound for southern destinations such as Miami, famous for its vacation-related offerings. They are prosperously garbed, in dark suits and elaborate dresses. They walk upright in a confident, self-assured manner, some of them smiling as they head off to their destinations. Ellison shows that the white travelers are secure in their lives and can afford to enjoy the leisure of traveling south. To them, the South is a pleasant tourist attraction.
To the black travelers heading rightward into the north-bound terminals, however, the South is a place to be escaped. Instead, they seek the freedom and opportunities offered by northern cities such as Chicago, where the societal and legal norms constraining the advancement of African-Americans are less stringent. The black travelers are mostly of the working class, as evident in their clothing: overalls or extremely simple suits and dresses.
The African-Americans in the painting have experienced hard times, as Ellison shows via their bent, rather strained postures, as if there were some invisible burden which they shoulder. They also lack the ability of the white travelers to hire black servants to carry their luggage. Rather, they must lug their own possessions. While they are diligently and earnestly pursuing opportunities for better lives, the viewer knows that their futures will be far from pleasant, and they will encounter immense hardships ahead. Nor will the black travelers receive immense support from the whites at the train station. Instead, they must face constant reminders of their second-class status, including the "colored" sign atop one of the doorways on the right. Indeed, Ellison's unconventional use of perspective shows that, as the action depicted in the painting progresses, the blacks and the whites are likely to become even more remote from each other.
Instead of having the two terminals converge as they recede into the distance, as would have been dictated by conventional realist perspective, the terminals instead move even farther away from one another, each approaching its own corner of the painting, indicating the immense distance between the futures of the white and black travelers. In the center of the painting are the only possible links between the two worlds: the black servants of the whites, who do not experience the same hardships as the black travelers, yet who are not by any means equal to the whites in status. They are dressed in respectable suits, but still of a lower quality than those donned by the whites.
Here, Ellison seeks to make visible the position of blacks who seek to adapt themselves to the white social hierarchy. They can become moderately well-off, but they can still never equal their white masters, and are constantly expected to perform lower-order tasks for the whites. Overall, Ellison seeks to expose viewers of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to the differences in perspectives between the groups of whites and blacks. Since the black travelers have their backs to the backs of the white travelers, neither group is capable of seeing the other and noticing the circumstances the other group is in. By introducing a third perspective, that of the viewer, Ellison enables anybody looking at the painting to attain cognizance of both groups' situations and the implications thereof, thus transcending the limitations of the viewer's own racial and socioeconomic perspective.
Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.
In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage Right, Rebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas,
Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently
the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until
Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout
Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its
Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s
selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology, a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.