My father was an artist and a painter, and he worked in all sorts of forms. The walls of our home were decorated with my dad’s works: pen-and-ink, oils, charcoal, and watercolors. One of his paintings is in the room I’m in now.
It’s been more than eleven years since he died, and more than thirty since he last painted. He concentrated on music the last half of his life, and eventually stopped painting: starting in his forties, he had a business custom building and repairing musical instruments – he could play virtually all of them. So there just wasn’t time for painting anymore.
I was amazed by his paintings as a child; my own efforts to draw and to color seemed so meager. Truthfully, my own efforts at everything seemed pitiful and small. From an early age, I had just enough awareness to know I wasn’t really that good at anything. Having a father who was good at virtually everything served to emphasize it. (He had also been a college athlete and a pilot, among his many other accomplishments.)
To be fair, I was good at reading, but that isn’t really a thing.
I was also an ill-behaved and unruly child: bringing home bad grades for “conduct” was the most consistent feature of my thirteen grades worth of pre-college education.
At around age fourteen, I gave up trying to draw or paint for good. By that point, I, too, had transitioned to music, learning to play the piano passably well, although mostly focused on types of music that meant nothing to my contemporaries. I still loved painting as an art form, though, and would buy my father books of paintings by different artists for Christmas or birthdays just so we could sit and look at them together.
My father had originally majored in art in college with intention of being an illustrator (he ended up in the Air Force instead). He kept this special penchant for book illustrations as an art form throughout his life. Two of his favorite types were watercolor based: both ‘pure’ and ‘pen-and-ink with water color wash’ being techniques he particularly loved seeing when done well.
We would be flipping the pages of a book, stopping to look at an illustration, while he would say things like
“I love the way this is done… here, watercolors are used to suggest the kind of haziness your eyes might experience in bright fall sunlight. The shadows fall across the path in ways that bring the sunbeams to life, and the leaves have a texture that suggest moisture… can’t you can kind of feel what it would be like to be where the artist was?”
My father saw order where I couldn’t see it: in fact, he saw actual things – colors, patterns – that I could never see. He lived the life of a neglected and misunderstood sort of genius, one who no one studies in college courses, or reads paeans to at public readings. He wasn’t cool, or fashionable, or known at all as artist, except by his family. But whatever he was enthusiastic about, he attempted to share it with us, his children: adding to our joy, helping us see what our young eyes struggled to see. He was, in a sense, trying to fashion our sensibilities into another work of art, another bit of beauty and order in this otherwise chaotic world.
For my father was artist, and a painter, and he worked in many forms: but the greatest of these was love.
Picture credit : © Juliasha | Dreamstime.com – Watercolor alley
For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.