I was thinking about the significance of Memorial Day, and I was thinking too that those in other countries believe they are fighting for their respective freedoms. With so many fighting, thinking theirs is the just cause, we will always be remembering those who fought and died.
I am challenging myself to create group portraits. It is a continuation of expressing the notion that that those who are prisoners, whether criminals or victims are connected to us and we to them. I did some drawings of groups when I was exploring images of my father as a child during World War II. These drawings led me back to the whole painting surface, as I am using negative and positive space to bring the picture into harmony. This was influenced by a talk I gave at the George School, when I spoke of how I was breaking the rule I learned in school of covering the whole canvas with paint. I rejected this in my series of fighters; now I am returning to it. My reading of the finely researched and brilliantly written David Park: a painter’s life by Nancy Boas also contributed to my thoughts about this painting. Park is my role model because of his ability to convey the universality of people. He did it with amazing technique, energy and integrity.
The first part of A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks is a painful reminder that tragic pasts often create bars that circumscribe lives. As a child, my father took my sister and me to my grandmother’s one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn which she shared with her youngest son. I tried not to stare at my uncle as he shook back and forth, listening delightedly, and sometimes frustratedly, to his radio. He heard almost every Mets game on that radio, I think. Born in Leipzig, Germany, when just a baby, my uncle, as part of the kinder-transport to rescue Jewish children, was put on a train to England. There, he lived with a family who fell in love with him, and he with them. Years later, he was taken from this family, the only one he remembered, and brought to the United States to be reunited with his biological family. It was told to me that he never quite got over this, and spent most of his adult life as I remembered him during those visits to Brooklyn. I have begun this portrait of my Uncle Simon from photos and from memory:
Been working on the other side of Life during wartime. I have been painting this while listening to The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, and the dramatic and sometimes harrowing story have influenced this work. Not finished yet.
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.
First and foremost, Dix is a powerfully expressive artist. Etching is the medium that most successfully expresses the suffering and cruelty he experienced firsthand during World War I. When he began to depict the superficiality of society after the horrors of the war, the painting medium did not do his imagination justice. Although a successful portraitist, his works in oil and tempera, perhaps handcuffed by the new objectivity, tend to be more mannered and less powerful than his graphic work. Although he ridiculed the academic style of painting, he seemed to absorb it, and most often, was not willing to experiment with, or subvert it, as he did with his drawings and etchings.
Before I was beaten over the head by the war etchings, I enjoyed eating at Cafe Sabarsky. The food was not overwhelming, but I savored my time there. The coffee was brilliant, and the surroundings, dignified.
My walk uptown from the Port Authority Bus Terminal allowed me time to enjoy the sounds of the city: cars and buses whooshing past, peoples’ exotic accents, and bits of conversations. Because it was fairly early, the city wasn’t quite alive yet, so I also had moments of silence when I could delight in a lovely breeze on my neck and face.
Perhaps due to the subject of Dix’s work, and the later, inevitable overcrowding I felt walking back to the Terminal, I was eager to return home. As Dix knew, the world is a lonely and corrupt place. Home and loved ones are sanctuaries. The bus ride home was not as warm and fuzzy as the ride in, when the driver stopped at the ticketing agency to allow new passengers to purchase their tickets for much less than they would have if bought directly from him: an everyday act of loving-kindness. Two drawings from my day: