I've always said that painting a portrait is like a meditation on a person. A long one. Every interaction you've ever had with that person, every thing you know about them...floats up to the top, settling in your conscious mind while you paint. It can be a little odd when you next see the person, after working long hours on their portrait. You might say, "Hi! I've been thinking about you for the last four days!" This ensures a very weird interaction if the subject of the portrait is just an acquaintance...or a teenager goddess help me. Eye-twitch, half-smile, loss of face muscle-control micro-second later and we have a good 30 Rock skit premise: the intimate, but not so intimate hi-bye.
Recently, I've discovered that painting a portrait of a person as important as my laid-to-rest Grandma is different than that. (Mini-joy identified!)
For this work, the goal is to make the connections offered by the information floating up and settling in my conscious mind. Memories of diners, beaches, black and white movies, candy jars, closet playrooms, tablecloths, wallpaper, jewelry, bedspreads, gossip a.k.a talk without saying anything, butter, Uncle Joe, Sis, Christmas trees, singing....fill my mind.
I'm painting and thought-bubbles float up of the things I did right (sent postcards) followed by thought-bubbles of the things I wish I had more patience for (visits).
I'm painting and I realize why I wear lipstick and like shiny things.
I'm painting and I remember that it was through my Grandma's life that I also learned about addiction, abuse, and pain. Perhaps there were too many children (eleven) or perhaps there was too little money. Looking at the bigger picture, was it the era (the 1960's), inequality, or the military lifestyle that was to blame? The soup of my conscious mind begins to put the puzzle together. My Grandma loved puzzles and so do I.
I'm still painting and I mull over the complicated web woven by family. Some things talked about way too much and other things not enough because it's just so hard to know what questions to ask and what information to offer. The truth and the story ebb and flow from each other, sometimes the same, sometimes not.
My paintings become my interpretation of that story. I have discovered a new type of intimacy, one that was never available when my Grandma was here in this physical world.
And I discover that I have her smile.
Hi Grandma! I've been thinking about you.