Sometimes the back of a painting can peak my interest as much as the front. And Ben Culwell’s painting Merger, 1957-77 recently did just that.
Merger has a colorful heavily layered surface packed with visual information imbedded in unconventional combinations of media worked and re-worked over time. But when the painting was recently moved out of my office, I discovered the artist had left us with almost as much contextual information on the back.
It seems the full title of this painting is “MERGER” (WHEN SAN ANTONIO TRANSIT CO. SOLD SOUTHWEST GENERAL INSURANCE CO. TO PACIFIC NATIONAL INSURANCE CO.). Additional text on the back reads No. 57-12 (perhaps it was the 12th painting that Culwell began in 1957) and, interestingly enough, HANG ANY SIDE UP. To add to the mystery, the name “YANKEE DOODLE” is visible on the center support bar beneath a thin layer of white paint.
Of course, I googled the merger to find out more...
Even though I didn’t find any information specific to the merger, I did discover that Culwell maintained two careers, one in art and the other in business. In the late 1950s, Culwell worked as the Executive Vice President of Southwest General Insurance Co. in San Antonio, Texas. With this new information, I considered the range of emotions that would naturally come with having to sell a company in which you had invested so much and gained new insight into this painting that the artist would work on for 20 years.