Swan’s Island Kitchen

SwansIsland
October, 1995
Oil on paper
20”x 16”

My father, the painter.

Journal 10/19/95: Worked hard and exhausted myself yesterday with a painting of Dad in Maine from a photo taken by Mom. Loaded subject, difficult picture. I cried, loved, remembered at the same time as I looked deeply at shapes, colors, figures. Didn’t finish it. Stopped when I began to get careless. Must let go of wanting it to be a good painting for them. Thoughts of wanting to give it to Mother are a trap! Must let the process move me forward as always!

On vacations my father spent many hours hunched over doing watercolors, usually out by the Maine docks or rocks he loved. As a child it was a huge privilege to occasionally accompany him and work along side him.

Doing this painting in 1995 was a way of connecting with him when I picked up a brush seriously again after a hiatus of 30 years. Connecting with the artist in me and our history together. Because he did encourage me. I didn’t have the drawing eye and talent he did, so it was hard for him. But he always taught me all through the years at home. And in his usual cryptic and curmudgeonly manner, (not for nothing is he called Grumps by his grandchildren), he has been encouraging since I took up the brush again.

I always considered this painting unfinished – that I had been too chicken, too afraid of ruining it to declare the painting within the painting or include the altar of shells and wildflowers Mom always has on the table. Recently, however, “Last Puzzle Piece” provided a clue of the aptness of this one just as it is. Proving once again that the hand knows better than the mind – if we only give it free reign.

The blank spaces make it look like an unfinished puzzle – like the hundreds we all did together over the years. Tom pointed out that you can’t even tell that he is painting – the brush being part of what I never put in. So now if I squint I can also see him hunched over a puzzle here.

The puzzle of our family’s interconnected lives. Here he sits in his quiet, out of the way manner. Is he conjuring? Asking us to do what he cannot? Emotionally pretty distant as a father – a product of his life and times, he does not have the tools for reaching out. I weep sometimes at the lost connections for us all. But we’ve been doing the best we can with the hand we dealt ourselves – indeed with the situation we set up to deal with these very forces.

And now there is another reason for the blank space – my father has macular degeneration and his eyes have worsened to the point where he can no longer paint or draw because of the large blank space in the middle of wherever he looks directly. His brush point literally disappears. He fusses that even his sculptures aren’t as “finished” as he would like them to be. How will this open him to new ways of being in the world – both emotionally and as an artist?? To be continued….

Written for Living Out Loud Show, November 2004.

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