Some of our favorite characters in TV and film may hold down day jobs. They may be students, professors, doctors, or lawyers by trade, but secretly they are artists. Whether they say so on screen or not, it resonates with us. Watch as on the first of each month Artiholics salutes some of your favorite film and television characters for the secret artists they really are, but would most likely never claim to be.
Andy Dufresne on the outside was a young hot shot banker. In prison (and in reality) he is secretly an artist. He’s a sculptor, painter, designer, architect, teacher, mentor, philanthropist, craftsman, actor, and scholar.
His friend Red is a small time smuggler and gambler, but he’s also a sage, a philosopher, and poet. Had they met on the outside it would be one of the all time classic artist and writer friendships. They play off one another beautifully, and work to each others talents. They inspire each other, keep each other going, and pull schemes within the constraints of the system in order to make each others lives easier, more creative, less confining, and less monotonous.
They give each other the one thing any artist trapped inside a creative mental block (or physical concrete block) needs…hope. Hope that not only will they be one day free, but that they will be able to one day fully express themselves for the artists they truly are.
To Red, on first glance Andy looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over. A “tall drink of water with the silver spoon up his ass.” From his fresh fish appearance Red thought Andy would crack-up and cry his first night in Shawshank. He was wrong:
“The first night in the joint Andy Dufresne cost me two packs of cigarettes, he never made a sound.” – Red
The perception of Andy among the inmates was the same perception many introverted self doubting, self conscious artists probably are pegged with at first glance. Andy kept to himself, he was quiet, “a cold fish”, and also like most artists people believed that he thought “his shit smelled sweeter than most.”
GEOLOGIST & ROCK HOUND:
The first time Andy approached anyone to have a conversation was when he spoke to Red in hopes of acquiring a rock hammer to carve some stone. To prove to Red that he wasn’t looking to murder anyone with it he started identifying rocks that were laying on the grounds of the exercise yard “quarts, some mica, shale, limestone.”
After their interaction, Red watched Andy from a far and had a new opinion of the man, and from this description of Andy’s gate and attitude he might be talking about any number of artists. David Bowie could easily be described like this:
“I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world. Like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say, I liked Andy from the start.” -Red
Now does that sound like someone describing a banker, or an artist?
Prison life consists of routine, and more routine…But in the Spring of 1949 the powers that be decided that the roof of the license plate factory needed its surface repainted. This required a dozen volunteers for a weeks work. It was outdoor detail, and May is one fine month to be painting outdoors. Red pulled a few strings and wouldn’t you know it, Andy and a crew of Red’s friends all got assigned to the job.
OPEN BAR ART RECEPTION:
When Andy heard Captain Hadley talking about the $35 thousand he was about to inherit and lose the bulk of to taxes, Andy couldn’t help but interject. In exchange for preparing the tax free gift legal forms for Mr. Hadley, Andy negotiated a 3-beer-a-piece open bar reception for him and his fellow painters. At 10 o’clock in the morning, on the second to last day of the job, the 10 men who painted the entire plate factory roof sat in a row drinking icy cold bohemia style beers. A little early morning celebratory art reception courtesy of our man Andy, and the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison.
As Red put it…”We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation. As for Andy, he spent that break hunkered in the shade a strange little smile on his face, watching us drink his beer… I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.” – Red
“Hey, you want a cold one Andy” – Heywood
“No thanks, I gave up drinking” – Andy
“Chess, now there’s a game of kings…civilized, strategic. I’ve been thinking about getting a board together…I want to carve the pieces myself. One side in Alabaster, the opposing side in soap stone, what do you think?” – Andy
When the guards weren’t looking, Andy began to tag the A of his name into the wall of his cell with his rock hammer (and that’s about as far as he got).
“Wait, wait, wait, wait here she comes. This is the part I really like, this is the part where she does that shit with her hair.” – Red
“Yeah I know, I’ve seen it three times this month.”-Andy
The inmates were watching the 1946 Rita Hayworth film noir classic Gilda,
After Andy was beaten to an inch of his life by the sisters for refusing to give them oral , he was in the infirmary for a month. Red and the boys decided to give Andy a nice welcome back when he got home from the infirmary. What do you get an artist who has been injured and has finally been able to regain his strength? Art supplies and a film poster of course:
“The man likes to play chess. Let’s get him some rocks…Despite a few hitches, the boys came through in fine style, and by the week Andy was due back we had enough rocks saved up to keep him busy till rapture.”-Red
In the Warden’s office Andy notices the framed typographical artwork to his left.
“My wife made that in church group” -Warden
“It’s very nice sir.” – Andy
LIBRARIAN / LITERARY ARCHIVIST:
The Warden reassigned Andy to work with Brooks as his assistant in the Shawshank Prison Library easy peasy Japaneasy. In exchange for this job upgrade from laundry detail, Andy helps the guards with their finances.
“I’m a convicted murder who provides sound financial planning, it’s a wonderful pet to have.” – Andy
ARTS GRANT WRITER:
The first day on the job in the Library Andy talks with his fellow inmates about his idea to expand the Shawshank library. He proposes asking the Warden for funds to get new books. This suggestion is scoffed at. When the Warden shoots him down for the funds Andy then asks the Warden for his permission to allow him to write to the state senate requesting funds from them for books to expand the library. A letter a week was his proposal. The Warden agreed, and agreed to mail them for him as well.
“So Andy started writing a letter a week, just like he said, and just like the Warden said, Andy got no answers.” – Red
Three years later Andy was doing taxes for the entire prison and the opposing prison’s baseball teams. In tax season it got so busy Andy was afforded a staff. This got Red out of the wood shop for a month out of the year, and still Andy kept sending those letters…until one day a shipment arrived.
“Dear Mr. Dusfrane,In response to your repeated inquiries the state has allocated the inclosed funds for your library project. ‘this is $200!’ In addition the library district has generously responded with a generous donation of used books and sundries. We consider this matter closed. Please stop sending us letters.”
“Good for you Andy” –Guard
“It only took six years, from now on I’ll write two letters a week.” – Andy
MUSICAL MISTRO / MULITIMEDIA ARTIST:
As Andy had set upon himself to move the boxes of books and sundries to the library the observing guard went to “pinch a loaf.” Andy flipped through and found one box of vinyl records.
When he found the album with the recording of “Canzonetta sull’aria” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” he started to play it. He locked the door to the Warden’s office, switched on the sound to all the megaphones around the entire prison and broadcast this beautiful song to all the inmates.
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about, truth is, I don’t want to know. Somethings are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.
I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.” – Red
When the Warden couldn’t get into his office to turn the music off, Andy looked directly into the Warden’s eyes and turned it UP. Earning him two weeks in the hole (solitary confinement – the hardest time you can do). When he got out his fellow inmates asked him about it.
“I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company… It was in here, and in here (taps his head and his heart). That’s the beauty of music, they can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?” – Andy
“I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though, didn’t make much sense in here.” – Red
“Here is where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.”-Andy
“Forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone, that there’s a, there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.” – Andy
“What are you talking about?” – Red
For Red’s 30th anniversary parole rejection present Andy got him a harmonica. The physical representation of hope in metal. Red gives Andy a new poster for his 10 year anniversary.
After staying true to his word in writing two letters a week instead of one, in 1959 the state senate and appropriations committee awarded Andy an annual payment of five hundred dollars a year, just to shut him up.
“By the year Kennedy was shot, Andy had transformed a storage room smelling of rat turds and turpentine into the best prison library in New England, complete with a fine selection of Hank Williams.” – Red
After getting his annual funding for his library Andy made deals with book clubs, charity groups, and bought remaindered books by the pound. He sorted all the books by section, and every book the inmates read off a title to he already had read and was able to categorize by subject matter off the top of his head.
The old librarian Brooks gets paroled after 50 years of prison. As an act of desperation he puts a knife to Heywood’s throat to try to stay in prison. Andy calmly and rationally talks Brooks into letting Heywood go, and drop the knife. Red explains to the group that Brooks is institutionalized.
“These walls are funny, first you hate em, then you get used to em, enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they’re taking. The part that counts anyway.” – Red
Red is proven correct when they get a letter from Brooks. The fast pace of life and his inability to adapt to it caused him to hang himself in the halfway house the parole board set him up in.
THE ART OF MANUFACTURING AN ART ALTER EGO:
Andy did the Warden’s books for all his illegal dealings, and as he put it to Red.
“Scams you wouldn’t even dream of. Kickbacks on his kickbacks. There is a river of dirty money running through this place.” – Andy
Red realized that if the government ever got suspicious of the dirty dealings they would arrest the Warden.
“Randal Stevens, the silent silent partner. He’s the guilty one your honor, the man with the bank accounts. That’s where the filtering process starts. They trace anything, it’s just going to lead to him.” – Andy
“But who is he?” -Red
“He’s a phantom, an apparition, second cousin to Harvey the rabbit. I conjured him, out of thin air. He doesn’t exist, except on paper.”-Andy
“Andy, you can’t just make a person up.”-Red
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish by mail. Mr. Stevens has a birth certificate, a drivers license, social security number. If they ever trace any of those accounts, they’ll end up chasing a figment of my imagination.”-Andy
“Well I’ll be damned. Did I say you were good? Shit, you’re Rembrant.” -Red
“It gave him a thrill to help a youngster climb off a shit heap.”-Red
“Prison time is slow time, so you do what you can to keep going. Some fellas collect stamps, others build matchstick houses. Andy built a library. Now he needed a new project, Tommy was it. It was the same reason he spent years shaping and polishing those rocks.” – Red
INSPIRING OTHERS: REKINDLING HOPE : PAINTING WITH WORDS:
After spending two of the hardest months anyone could possibly imagine in solitary confinement his friends were all worried about Andy. Red went to the yard to check on his mental condition.
“My wife used to say I’m hard man to know, like a closed book. Complained about it all the time. She was beautiful, god I loved her. Didn’t know how to show it that’s all.”– Andy
Andy then Andy proceeded to tell Red about Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
“You know what Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life, a warm place with no memory. Open up a little hotel, right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat, fix it up new. Take my guests out, charter fishing…I didn’t shoot my wife and I didn’t shoot her lover. What ever mistakes I made I’ve paid for them and then some. That hotel, that boat. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”-Andy
“I don’t think you outta be doing this to yourself Andy. It’s just shitty pipe dreams (SPOILER: Shitty pipe dreams indeed. Shitty pipe reality, literally.). Mexico is way down there, and you’re up here and that’s the way it is.”– Red
“Yeah right, that’s the way it is. It’s down there and I’m in here…I guess it comes down to a simple choice; get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Andy
Which is a version of “He who is not busy being born is busy dying,” from the song It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan. He then started to plant a seed of hope in Red:
“There is a big hayfield up near Buxton. One in particular’s got a long rock wall with a big Oak tree at the North End. It’s like something out of a Robert Frost Poem. It’s where I asked my wife to marry me… Promise me Red, if you ever get out, find that spot. Next to that wall you’ll find a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine hay field. It’s a piece of black volcanic glass, there is something buried under it I want you to have. ” – Andy
“What Andy, what’s buried under there?” – Red
“You’ll have to pry it up to see.” – Andy
The next few scenes are so beautifully done, where upon first viewing you are certain Andy is going to kill himself, and all signs point to yes. This was a classic bait and switch misdirection that only works in really well written films and you don’t know he’s not dead until the warden flips open his shoe box.
Aside from the giant pin-up cheesecake movie posters, Andy also has a huge collection of photographs and prints of famous paintings on his walls which he updates over his twenty years in the cell. The first half of the movie the background photos in his cell are very gray (most likely because color printing was very costly at the time).
There are a few pictures that look like they could be portraits of artists and sculptors (who I don’t recognize off hand), as well as some famous black and white nudes. But there are also a few pictures of a tree, boats, oceans, and two guys next to one another with giant things on their heads. These are themes that are consistent as the walls change throughout the film the wall art gets more colorful, but stays in the same pattern.
It’s Vincent Van Gogh’s Road with Cypress and Star also commonly referred to as Country Road In Provence By Night.
An amazing choice of works, as it depicts a pair of travelers walking down the road where a giant Cypress tree stands in the center of the what appears to be a hay field. Very reminiscent of the single Tree in the hay field in Buxton where Andy proposed to his wife, and where he told Red to go to find the volcanic glass rock.
The second is on the far left above the Captain’s head:
Breezing Up by Winslow Homer
An oil painting by American artist Winslow Homer. It depicts a catboat called the Gloucester chopping through that city’s harbor under “a fair wind” (Homer’s original title). Inside the boat are a man, three boys, and their catch. It can be seen in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. You can see that Andy had cropped into the image, as to focus on the boat and the people on it.
The other image you will obviously recognize as the famous shot of :
Albert Einstein with his tongue out. I’m guessing that this was showing that Andy was genius, and also had a sense of humor. Either that or this was a wall of artists and scientists Andy respected and looked up to, as well as the boats and open oceans he wished he would one day be able to see again.
So now that we got through the key pieces of art on the walls in Andy’s cell let’s talk about his Redemption.
Andy’s Redemption is multi-layered, and each layer is ACHIEVED THROUGH THE ARTS…No, seriously. Let me explain: The first two layers of his redemption are actually more for his fellow inmates than himself.
THE FIRST LAYER: FREEDOM – Through Literature:
Andy is an educated man, and understands the journeys a person’s mind can take by just reading a good book. This is a time before TV mind you. When Andy finds the prison’s book collection consists mainly of copies of National Geographic and Look magazine he makes it a personal crusade to try to build a massive collection for the prison, so that at least for the hours when inmates are reading they can feel free and be mentally transported out of their cells to distant lands, and long ago times. This library is a permanent form of escape, for the others who he can not smuggle out with him, and will be there for generations to come.
THE SECOND LAYER: HOPE – Through Music:
The scene where the crates of books arrived and there was the one crate with records, Andy couldn’t help himself. After he started to listen to that recording of “Canzonetta sull’aria” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” he got inspired. An inspiration he hadn’t felt in so long, he had to risk everything in order to share this beauty, this feeling of unbridled artistic expression to the entire prison by cranking on the microphone to every speaker and turning the record louder. The song brought him hope, and he needed to share that hope with everybody. As he said in the next scene when asked about his time in the hole:
“That’s the beauty of music, they can’t get that from you. You need it so you don’t forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours. Hope.” – Andy
“In 1966 Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank Prison. All they found of him was a muddy pair of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an ol’ rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub.” – Red
Two trips through the looking glass, two holes hidden behind art, both dug by the artist through skill (both mental and physical) and lots of time, craft, deception, and planning. The movie creates some amazing parallels and dualities using two holes in the walls of two peoples inner sanctums; Andy’s cell and the Warden office. Each hole is covered by art… Let me proceed to blow your mind.
In the Warden’s office the hole in the wall is the built in wall safe where the “river of dirty money running through this place” flows. The art in front of this hole is religious needlework the Warden’s wife made in church group which reads “His Judgement Cometh and that Right Soon….”. Art hiding a secret, a secret by if which its contents were ever discovered by anyone, it would ruin and possibly end his life.
A hole the Warden also dug with blood by killing Tommy and intentionally keeping an innocent man (Andy) imprisoned to keep the dirty money flowing. The Warden kept his most valuable sinful possessions behind that pious artwork, the ledger of his dirty dealings and cooked books.
While the second hole was the hole in the wall of Andy’s cell. The hole behind which lies a 500 yard river of human shit Andy has to eventually crawl through to his freedom. Art hiding a secret, a secret by if which its contents were ever discovered by anyone, it would ruin and possibly end his life, as well as his last shred of hope. The art in front of this hole has changed throughout the years, but has always been scantly clad “sinful” posters of chesty movie pin-up girls. Andy, the sculptor carved out this hole by hand. Just pressure, time, and a big goddamn poster.
Unlike the Warden, Andy kept his most valuable righteous possession behind his sinful artwork, his portal to freedom.
“And shine my shoes, I want them looking like mirrors.” –The Warden
The Warden’s shoes did get shined, and were now the possession of Randal Stevens. The living mirror of all the Warden’s dirty work, out to cash in on all the evil he has perpetrated on the inmates. Visiting a dozen banks and withdrawing nearly $370 Thousand Dollars of the Warden’s money, while mailing the Warden’s ledger to The Portland Daily Bugle.
THE FIFTH LAYER: FREEING RED
Like Brooks, Red was an institutionalized man. He knew it, the world was too big and too fast for him. He knew if he were to ever get paroled he would be tap dancing in the sky like Brooks before too long. But Andy had planted a seed. Andy had given him a mental treasure map that started in Buxton, and Red had promised he would see it through. If he can make it to Buxton, he will be able to claim his treasure.
Red soon got a blank postcard in the mail, but the postmark said Fort Hancock, Texas. That’s where Andy riding on the back of his art persona alter ego Randal Stevens “second cousin to Harvey the rabbit” hopped down the bunny trail, and crossed over to Mexico.
“Sometimes it makes me sad though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows that it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.” -Red
Red buys a compass and a hat hitches a ride to Buxton and travels North. He eventually stumbles on the field with the large oak. And the scene looks amazingly close to the Van gogh painting but with only one traveler (foreshadowing with oil painting, kudos). You can say that Andy is there with Red in spirit, as if it wasn’t for Andy Red wouldn’t be going on this journey.
A shot that looks a lot like the little boy on the back of the boat in the painting Breezing Up by Winslow Homer. Andy is obviously delighted to see his old friend once again, immediately drops what he’s doing and hops off the boat and starts walking to him.
The camera pulls back to reveal the beautiful blue of the Pacific, the ocean with no memories. From the grin on Red’s face it is as blue as it has been in his dreams. As the music soars so does the camera, into the heavens showing the vast limitless space these two men who were both confined to cages for decades now have the ability to roam in their leisure.
A tropical playground to live out the rest of their days, a world where the only thing made out of stone are his chess pieces.
They hug as brothers. Friends who haven’t seen each other in years, and never knew if they would again. They hug for the first time, as free men.
P.S. This is such a fucking good movie.
Written by Cojo “Art Juggernaut”
[The Shawshank Redemption Logo and images are copyright 1994 Castlerock Entertainment.]