Yesterday I spent hours looking at the facsimile of The Big Book by W. Eugene Smith. I could relate to the darkness he found in the world and his devotion to its depiction. I could also relate to John Berger’s words about Smith’s mother: “How did the moral drama, which is so integral a part of his photography, first begin for him? Unquestionably, profoundly, and until the end, it began with his mother.”* A detailed review of Smith’s Big Book can be found here.
*Berger, John. Pieta: W. Eugene Smith, The Big Book, Volume 3 Essays and Texts. Austin, University of Texas Press; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. 2013.
Worked on this painting again today, while listening to a professor discuss Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. It is painful to watch my mother get older, and only after listening to the discussion of Proust did I have a greater understanding of what I am feeling.
Yesterday I looked through a book of costumes for the theater and came across a painting of a masked woman. Since I have not been happy with the portrait of my mother, I decided to add a mask. Just as in life, it covers a multitude of sins, but more importantly, it provides some mystery. My first mistake with the portrait was to have my mother smiling. Smiles have no place in portraits, unless they are evil, joker-like smiles.
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 can’t say I am a fan, since I have only watched two episodes, but I felt some sympathy for June Shannon, Honey Boo Boo’s mom. And I found her face interesting, and wanted to paint her portrait. The size of her chin(s) reminded me of Anna Swan, the Giantess of P.T. Barnum’s show, whose portrait I would like to paint next.