Monday, July 13, 2015

The Immortality of Paint

I've always sought a way to express myself, not so much for others to take notice, but to feel like my existence meant something in this world. I played in a number of bands when I was younger, thinking that someday I might write the perfect song that expressed me, but it was painting that I found to be the much more personal form of expression. Paintings are not just images, but a record of our experiences, conveying our connections to people, places and emotions.

In 1998, Kimberly and I added to our family. No, we don't have children in the traditional sense, but Ken and Barbie became the children that we doted on in the absence of human kids.
Ken & Barbie getting a bit too heavy for the table.
They added an immense amount of empathy to our lives, and gave as much as they got. The family continued to grow in 1999 when we adopted Dignan and Opal who were abandoned in a dumpster in Kansas City.
Opal & Dignan
In 2000, Barney and Betty joined us bringing our family to 8 souls living in a 1920s former farmhouse in Overland Park, KS.
The big babies, Barney & Betty
For 15 years, our lives revolved around the family, and every decision was influenced by every one of these wonderful creatures. Have you ever tried to find an apartment in New York City with 4 cats and 2 dogs? It is possible with some creativity. San Francisco wasn't much easier, but at least our walks involved a beautiful beach and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Park
I started painting members of the family while still in the house in Kansas. It started with Opal. We had an empty bedroom that we never used, but she liked hanging out in there all by herself. The way the light splashed on the floor made her look all the more beautiful, and this was the first image I created after leaving my job at Hallmark Cards to pursue painting as a career. I remember that during the painting process, I was glued to the television as war broke out with Iraq, making me wonder if I could survive as a painter. The painting sold almost immediately, and even though it went to a great home, I was torn about letting it go. It seems that I had a similar emotional connection to the painting, just as I did to our fur kids.
"Opal's Room" (oil on canvas, 20"x30")

Over the years, I painted portraits of each of our family members. Barney and Betty were a struggle. There was just so much personality in each of them, that it was hard to capture in just one painting.
"Betty" (oil on canvas, 30"x40")
"Barney" (oil on canvas, 30"x40")

Dignan, the loner, was a portrait of beauty emerging form the dark around him.
"Dignan" (oil on canvas, 16"x30")

Barbie was a mix of pride and defiance.
"Barbie" (oil on board, 27"x19")

Ken developed over the course of an hour, his personality concentrated in his continuous stare.
"Ken" (oil on canvas, 12"x9")
In 2011, Opal was diagnosed with cancer, and given only a matter of months to live. We were in San Francisco at the time, and she loved to lounge around on her bed in front of her favorite window. I painted a new portrait of her to replace the one that was sold year ago. Against the odds, she lived another 2 years. I was glad to have the portrait hanging in our living room. It always made me feel that Opal was still with us.
"Opal In the Window" (oil on canvas, 19"x28")
As our family passed on, the portraits on the walls keep them in our hearts. Dignan passed from kidney failure in 2014. Barney's heart gave out in 2015, and one week later, Betty left us as a result of kidney failure.

When I say our lives revolved around them, it's not at all an exaggeration. Every morning, rain or shine, 100º or -20º, the dogs took Kimberly and I to the park at the crack of dawn. They lay at my feet as I painted and even attended classes with me. The cats were no different. Ken and Opal fought to be in our laps whenever I sat at my computer. Barbie demanded that I carry her cradled like a baby at least once a day. Dignan craved both attention and his space at the same time. We bought a king size bed, so that all eight of us could fit - for many years it's seemed as if Kimberly and I slept in separate rooms as animals pushed us apart, stretching out their own space on the bed.

Now, it's just Barbie. She still gets us up in the morning, but there's no longer the mad scramble of 24 feet running to the kitchen. Every morning, I pass by the paintings of all the kids as I get Barbie's food (and numerous meds) together. I have to admit that there's a certain comfort in seeing each of them in the mornings. I even reach out to touch the dogs heads in the paintings, scratching them between the eyes with a loving "good morning."

I cherish these paintings. I know that just as all things are temporary, these paintings will one day be gone. The canvas will rot, the varnish will yellow and the paint layers will crumble. Before any of that happens, myself and everyone that I know will long have turned to dust. I don't find sadness in this, but rather joy that these paintings continue to remind me of the times I shared with these lovely beings. Paintings aren't just images, they are packed with emotions and memories we want to revisit again and again. Compared to all of us, paint is seemingly immortal.