Beauty Before Death

There is brief but touching article right now about the dying wishes of a few inhabitants of Amsterdam being fulfilled by some awesome ambulance drivers and their charity. While there is so much to love about this story, my favorite part is the request to see a painting as a dying wish. Where else would a terminally ill patient be allowed into the galleries after hours for a private viewing of a Rembrandt but in the Rijksmuseum? This elevates the value and power of art above the sad commodity driven blue chip world. How truly amazing is it that these paintings mean so much to people that they factor visiting them into their last days of life? I often think that what I make is a luxury item; afforded by few and possibly unnecessary next to food or shelter. But just in case my art is an item of necessity or will become so, I’ll keep going.

Rembrandt was one of my grandmother’s favorite painters and she studied him extensively. I remember a copy she made of a Rembrandt self-portrait; it was impressive. She did many of her own self-portraits which I always admired and I was lucky enough to get her help when I was having to draw my own self-portrait as part of my application to RISD. I made my first attempt alone but after a quick lesson from my Grandmother, I went back and made a much improved version. Her instruction and guidance made an immeasurable difference in the quality of my portrait. Marion Pike or Cuckoo (my Grandmother’s beloved nickname) had a way with two dimensional rendering that I never really possessed. I was always about making objects. I think three dimensionally and so pushing the paint around when I work is as close to sculpture in painting as I can get. Making this doll for a friend’s two year old was revisiting a great joy I feel for making three dimensional objects:


As this story in Amsterdam made me think about my grandmother, I went through a stack of her old unused watercolor paper. The paper had been sitting in a print draw for years now and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Most of the paper is very old and some has moldy spots stained by age. Up until very recently, I thought the paper was unusable for me to paint on since it wasn’t clean and new looking. But then I decided rather than try and clean it or prime over the defects, I would embrace them. I started painting on the paper and I think it makes for a really interesting story and an even better tribute. My favorite pieces of paper are the ones with a smudge of her fingertips as if she were just here a minute ago leafing through to select a piece. The paper is beautiful and probably hand-made and I’m so glad I didn’t get rid of it during one of my studio purges. Here is the piece the paper has inspired:

UntitledWorkOnPaper1,2015,22x30inUntitled Work on Paper 1, 2015, acrylic on vintage paper, 22″ x 30″

In my own search for a piece to paint on, I stumbled across a couple unfinished paintings of hers in the stack of otherwise empty paper. Sandwiched and forgotten for decades, I discovered a couple of treasures amongst the pile. This piece is an unfinished sketch of two adolescent girls. These sketches show how even at the inception of my grandmother’s process, she had a gift for gesture and capturing the very essence of a subject’s personality. It was this gift she had for capturing the likeness of a person in their portrait that I found so extraordinary. Even after the sitter was gone for the day, she could continue working from memory.


Another piece I found was of a mountain range. This sketch is really a minimal and gestural landscape applied with one color and possibly only one application. Why she abandoned the piece, I don’t know, but the initial sketch where she uses the paper’s texture to render the mountain range is sublime. I love it as is and in the condition of gesture and I want to frame and hang it on my wall as a minimal masterwork.


This month’s music: Seinabo Sey

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