Ruminations on Seth Armstrong's 'Lovin Thy Neighbor'


"These are my neighbors, I used to watch them just to kill time. Now I can't take my eyes of them, just as you wont be able to..."    

-James Stewart from 

Rear Window trailer 

You have just decided to go see Lovin' thy Neighbor, paintings by Seth Armstrong, a contemporary telling of the famous Hitchcock film where you are the crippled voyeur bent on narrating the lives of strangers.  Multiple things occur simultaneously in the world of these oil paintings. As in our reality, outside the painted world (if there is such a thing) in an fragmented instance I am typing this letter, the parking man is theatrically ushering cars into the parking garage, and in a office building across town a zaftig woman picks fibers from her stockinged legs in a reverie, a state of perpetual procrastination, waiting for the next moment to begin, fortified against the horrific notion that someone she has never met is writing about her exact motions and bodily position from across town.

The epicenter of the series is a large painting of the downtown Los Angeles skyline from the point of view of a balcony or rooftop. It's the pleasant angle for you, the nocturnal voyeur cozying up in a wood-paneled sky loft with a cup of hot cocoa and a golden retriever.  At a safe distance you can evaluate the lives of your neighbors, measure yourself against them, and decide with whom your most prefer to copulate. You'd avoid thinking of yourself as the man with red lenses staring motionlessly into the night. You can still be your self, not depicted in the painting. 

You recall a story by Steven Tobolowsky. The story of 'naked man'. During his early days of acting in Los Angeles, Steven rented an apartment in Hollywood. From across the way, he could see into the adjacent apartment, and by the nocturnal light of the refrigerator he saw his neighbor, 'naked man'. 'Naked man' became somewhat of a fixture in Steven's life. He would often have guests over and they would stay up late watching 'naked man', speculating about his business and personal affairs. One night, Steven awoke startled and jumped out of bed. He turned on the light, illuminating his own naked body. Across the way he saw 'naked man' looking back at him. He had become naked mans' naked man. 

You review other paintings from Lovin' Thy Neighbor by Seth Armstrong, ambulating among your real neighbors whom you might actually love. You've surveyed these scenes before from the safety of your loft, ballasted by your golden retriever, whose unconditional love justifies your every thought. The masterfully crafted oil surfaces elect you to come into the fold. You sit on the bed with the topless girl and speculate on her frustration.  Sit on the couch and complain to the underwear man. Intervene in a murder by the man dressed as Captain America. Before long you pinpoint the familiarity, and refer to the mother painting for narrative council. Go back and excavate the roots of the relationships, you handsome cripple. 

There is comfort in being a voyeur. There is also a power. You are in charge of the interaction, of how much you see and how much you affect the subject. You're a sniper with out a weapon, just your eyes, saving mental images and storing them in corn husks like a mind tamale. Delicious. Hot cocoa and a tamale made of painted girl, naked on a couch, with pin-ups on one wall, and on another wall.....

In paramilitary medical records, there is a symptom common among snipers and spies. When a spy is positioned, waiting for a target, sometimes for hours, days or weeks on end, their focus turns inward and exploits a paranoia that they are themselves being watched. The voyeur is a part of a greater surveillance plan, one where they are not at the helm. If not you, then who? And what is this purpose in surveying you? And is there someone else surveying them, surveying you? This existential fractal may occur when you consider the decorative elements on the wall of the naked blonde girls' room, opposite the window.