Frip, St. Helena's Best

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    Photo: Gamma One Conversions
Housepaint on roofing tin
43 x 52 inches
Collection of
High Museum of Art

Frip is a comic-book-like painting on tin depicting a farmer plowing his field with a team of mules. Underneath the picture is a caption that reads "ST. HEANA'S [Helena's] BEST." The key to understanding this piece is the caption read against the image. On the one hand, Doyle's painting evokes the Paul Bunyan hero legend, in that the farmer in this picture literally towers over the team of mules that he follows, calling to mind images of Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. As such, it invites the viewer to read the painting as a representation of the best farmer on St. Helena Island, whose heroism derives from the fact that he literally towers over all others as a tiller of the soil. On the other hand, Doyle's painting can be read as seriocomic representation with phallic and racial overtones. In the picture, the plow is drawn and positioned in such a way that it appears to be one with the farmer's penis. If one focuses on this aspect of the obvious double entendre created by this painting, one is led to view the scene as a statement about sexual prowess or, at the least, sexual equipment. When read against the backdrop of racial stereotypes, the painting conjures up images of the stereotypically over-endowed African American male—the sexual hero—and, when viewed in terms of the total context, plays off of the vernacular expression "hung like a mule."