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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

About Face

By Mary E. Davies of Mary's Real Life

Years ago, I painted an oil portrait of my husband. Now he’s my ex, and the painting is in the garage, stacked with the mass-produced flower print that came with our RV, the extra leaves for the oak dining table, and two antique leaded-glass windows. Because what do you do with a portrait of your ex, now that he’s gone?

He doesn’t want to display it, because (I suppose) it would remind him of the painter, and I don’t want to, because how do you explain to visitors the continued presence of your ex-husband’s face on your living room wall?

I suppose one answer would be that the quality of the art is more important than the subject, though now that I think of it, I’m sure not even Picasso’s current wife could have enjoyed seeing her predecessors on the wall, despite their having only one eye, say, and green skin.

Anyway, I can’t make a Picasso-quality claim for my work. This is my one good piece, painting-wise, and as I recall, the chief accolade it received was, “I knew it was him right away.” A lesser issue is that my careful representation includes the logo of the Muir Beach Volunteer Fire Department on the sweatshirt he’s wearing: a dog raising his leg to pee on a hydrant.

My ex was always the artist in the family. His dad was one of the Coit Tower muralists of San Francisco, so perhaps it’s genetic. It was a bold step for me to sign up with him years ago for an oil painting class at the community college. By the second term, though, we tired of assignments like, “Today I’d like you to imagine a Gold Rush scene, and paint it using only black, white, and cadmium yellow.”

I said, “Let’s have our own class. We’ll just set up our easels at home and paint real stuff.”

We lived in about 300 square feet at the time, so squeezing in the easels was a project, but one afternoon a week, we set up still lifes (still lives?) or calla lily bouquets, and went to work. Then one day I said, “Let’s do portraits. Let’s set up our easels facing each other. You paint me; I’ll paint you.”

We decided first he’d sit still for 15 minutes while I sketched in the basics, then I’d sit. We could ask our sitter to re-assume the pose as necessary. What a day. What a revelation. The interest to be found in a face I thought I knew so well!

I had never looked as a painter must, to transfer what is seen to a canvas. The eyes, icy blue. The nose, slightly pushed to one side. Lines. Pillowy lips, more brown and blue than red. Skin nothing like the “flesh” crayon in my old box, in fact more yellow than pink. Shadows and light: how to give a face dimension without making it leprous? And how to show those soft springy brown curls on his head?

Looking at him that hard, that long, well, I just loved him.

Yup. I just loved him.


[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Quite an interesting dilemma as well as a very interesting story.

I offer this as food for thought - art is art - it a well done portrait and perhaps there is a gallery nearby that might have some interest - or an antique shop.

Some folks collect family photos and while this would take a stretch to qualify as antique, there may be an interested collector. Another venus is local art displayed in coffee shops.

I sense that even though it he is your ex-husband - that the artwork reflects an artist who does interesting portrait capturazation)sp?) and those of us not in the know and said kindly and respectfully, do not need to know.

Yup, and I just loved your story. Nicely written and fun!

I totally agree with the previous posters -- this portrait deserves to be seen!

Why not ask a close friend (or two) to keep their eyes open for a restaurant or similar venue that would like to display it? I frequent some restaurants with art for sale -- perhaps there are others where a price need not be stated.

Does your ex have a close relative who would appreciate the portrait?

A divorce creates difficulties as to what to do with the missing person's visage. I have photos of my daughter's ex, but they are with my daughter and granddaughters. I can't cut him out. What to do?

Great writing, by the way, Mary.

I loved this story. What do with the cast off love that comes so alive in a painting?

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