It made sense to paint a portrait of my mother next. But when I saw it after the first day it made me feel a little sad. My mother when younger was an avid bowler and tennis player. In each of the three photographs I used to begin this painting she was a two-toned blonde. Recently she had to stop her volunteer work which consisted of holding premature babies at a local hospital. Her smile is similar to her mother’s (see below) with one side of her mouth slightly raised. The cat eye shaped glasses she had been wearing when photographed with my father at the Copacabana are now very much in vogue. Hers may even have had rhinestones attached. Both portraits (mother and daughter) are testaments to how older fashions are brought back to life with each new generation. There is obviously more to do here, and it would seem the logical thing to paint a portrait of my father next. Honestly, I am finding these family portraits to be some of the most difficult: memories, and the effects of time are constantly asserting themselves and I turn to reading to not think about the past. Because of the years of tumult, it was my immediate family that instilled a true sense of compassion within me and a desire to avoid all such turmoil in the future.
When I visited a gallery owner two years ago, he asked me why I didn’t paint people who were personally close to me. At the time, I said that history is important to me. But while painting Fighter A351 I began to feel bored. I have been influenced by the Buddhist Center in town, and my readings; I think I am ready to see myself in those closest to me. While painting my grandmother Rae, my mother’s mother, I saw my mother, my sister, my aunt and uncle, and myself. I worked from three different images of my grandmother. I chose the one from the 1960’s for the hairstyle. How was she able to balance that on her head? Memories came back to me of the fried chicken under heat lamps at the Woolworth’s on Lincoln Road in Miami where she took me as a child, as well as the beaded curtains she made for her Florida apartment. From the stories my mother told I have gathered that Rae was a wild one. My first version of her contains a worry line on her forehead but as I thought more about her I couldn’t remember her worrying much.
I began with the idea of painting a portrait of my family, but decided instead to focus on my sister and myself. However, I wanted to relate our family to the larger world. With the war now, and the ramifications war has had on families throughout the centuries, I wondered how we, as children, would survive during wartime. This was not idle curiosity, as my Father went to England during World War II, as part of the Kindertransport. Growing up with almost no supervision or parenting, I am not sure if I could have been as responsible as he had to be at such a young age.
From an 1897 photograph of a criminal named Isma Martin from the Library of Congress site, another image of a lone animal, two photographs of my father as a child, and various images of starving, sick children, I cobbled together, and completed a family portrait.
Not satisfied yet, but getting where I want to be; that is, closer to something that is honest and real, which equals beauty. The title for the painting, Sacred vulture, came from p. 280 of Roosevelt’s African Trip by F. W. Unger, 1909, another PUL gem. The image, and the words beneath it, reminded me of paintings of flayed and bound figures of the Baroque period. Jusepe de Ribera’s images of Apollo and Marsyas, and St. Bartholomew being my favorites, but images of Prometheus also come to mind. It is interesting that I am looking at a book about Roosevelt’s big game hunting while I am reading another book: Gender, Humiliation and Global Security by Evelin Lindner, 2010. Lindner is advocating a move towards love to save ourselves and our planet. The Roosevelt book, filled with images of animals being slaughtered, powerfully illustrates why Lindner is right.
Family: My biological family, my lover, my friends, people I work with, pass on the street, read, and dream about. Animals, pictures of them, and people I never knew, enter my mind, and sometimes, cause my heart to ache; collectively, they create a gentle buffer to protect me in this world.