Play the Hand You’re Dealt?

Blue Club by Richard Diebenkorn and Kismet by Caitlyn Margol playfully engage in the dynamics of a card game. Are these cards from the same hand in a game, or are these two cards in a face-off to decide the winner? There is a phrase that is used often when regarding equity: “Play the hand you’re dealt.” Each of these cards are a part of a game, made by rules and systems for the players. Society works in a systematic process, akin to how a card game works. These works of art make us question whether to accept the cards we are dealt, or change the play in the middle of the game.

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993), Blue Club, 1981, Aquatint, spit bite, softground, 37.5" x 31"

Blue Club by Richard Diebenkorn was created in 1981, and acquired by the Reece Collection Acquisition Committee in 1989. The artist used techniques of aquatint, spit bite, and soft ground etching to realize the shape of a club inside of a spade. The rich blue tones in the club are striking against the black background. Diebenkorn had a lifelong fascination with the iconic imagery of playing cards, particularly the club and spade. He noted that these symbols and others carried “a much greater emotional charge than I realized.”

Caitlyn Margol ('21), Kismet, 2019, Etching,

Kismet (2019) by Caitlyn Margol, a 2021 Wake Forest alumna, was purchased in 2019 for inclusion in the John P. Anderson Collection of Student Art. Opposition of tone and form is seen in Kismet as the shapes of clubs are darkened and mirrored against a lighter background. The title represents destiny, bringing life into the work as the card is dynamically deciding the fate of the end of the game. The mirroring of the spades is not only entertaining for the eye but also underscores the spirit of playfulness and competition. Spades, clubs, and hearts are present in the conversation between the cards, within their own realm of a game.

As the players face their kismet, wonder arises on which hand will take the winning pool. It is important to consider what hand a person was dealt when considering your next move.

Georgia-Kathryn Duncan

Playing cards, a club that is a clover, black and white, and the elusive and humble "two" – a card that mimics its twin. The clover's luck in the game of chance evokes memories of leisure with loved ones, revealing the mystique of card games, where order shapes destiny. This reflection prompts thoughts on navigating life's junctures, whether defined by risk, where odds guide choices, or uncertainty, where veils conceal them. In our world, real risks are scarce, replaced by nebulous uncertainties: "Which university? The right major? This union?" Amid life's uncertainty, playing cards with friends yields a semblance of mastery, refining decision-making. The rule persists: play, always with companions. I would make solitaire illegal.

"I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member," said Groucho Marx. Here, the blue club belongs within the spade. Two lonely hearts, two aces, one inside the other. They belong to each other; they are conjoined. They are consummate. We can even see how the clover (or the club) entered from the bottom; now it is a part of the spade. When the spade digs, the club will also follow suit. The union of both forces me to contemplate souls and bodies, waves and particles, matter and form, Aristotle, and his hylomorphism. But it also reminds me of two individuals (two aces) becoming one because the spade has eaten the club.

Alejandro Hortal, Department of Philosophy, Visiting Assistant Professor

Both works seem to play with the imagery found on playing cards, usually mass produced and symmetrical. Both of these works, however, also seem to draw from folkart, especially Kismet with its two squares which remind me at least of a quilt. While the two squares mostly mirror each other, I like the way that the black grid doesn't quite meet.

As a medievalist, I was especially interested in Richard Diebenkorn's mention of heraldry as an early fascination. Heraldry was very much invested in signification and representation. But with heraldry the symbolism is supposed to clearly indicate the person or family. With the Blue Club, I see the familiar image of a spade but it is not clear to me what (or even if) is intended. I find it a cryptic, frustrating interpretation.

While both works make use of a club, the effect is markedly different. The Margol is characterized by repetitive nesting. In contrast, Diebenkorn has a singularity that rejects symmetry-- even the customary vertical symmetry of the club and spade symbols. It instead makes use of an organic softness. Because of the similar subject, it makes these differences all the more interesting. Without the comparison, I may not have paid attention to the specificity of how each artist chose to depict the central image.

Clara Wild, English Department, Visiting Assistant Professor, Literature

The FOCUS series features one artwork per month from the Wake Forest University Art Collections. Reflections from students, faculty, staff and alumni are encouraged. To include your voice in the dialogue, contact artcollections@wfu.edu.

Mark H. Reece Collection of Student-Acquired Contemporary Art, CU1985.4.1

© The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn