Past, Present, Future
A couple of years ago I took on the task of scanning and uploading all of our treasured family photographs, many of which are the only ones known to exist.
The photograph below has been tucked into one of our family photo albums since I can remember. In it are my then 11 year old mother, and her older sister. They are standing at the grave site of their mother. I have no idea what time of year the photograph was taken, but it was clearly winter in rural north Alabama. I believe it would have been 1955, or there abouts.
When you scan images onto your computer, it allows you to view them much larger than they actually are. When I pulled this image up on my over-sized monitor, I suddenly saw it in an entirely new way. My young mother’s expression broke my heart. How must it feel, to be all of 11 years old and standing at the side of your mother’s grave?
When I looked at my now-deceased aunt’s face, her quiet intensity was arresting. This was the day she stepped into the role of family matriarch for all her younger siblings. I believe she was around 25 years old at the time.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this photo or my aunt’s fierce face. I kept returning to it. I knew I wanted to do something with it. I wanted to create a piece of art that would do justice to my aunt’s enormous aura of control and command.
From my childhood perspective, I remember her as being an indomitable and towering force to be reckoned with. In her world view, there was a right way and a wrong way. She was staunchly ‘correct’. All fine qualities for someone so young to possess in order to shoulder enormous responsibility. Also characteristics that made it sometimes difficult for those around her to stand their ground and have their own opinions.
As I have grown into my 5th decade, so many of the people from my youth have passed away. Interesting, these words we use for death.
In my mind, I have begun to think of all these elders from my growing up time as ‘icons’. When you’re a child, the adults around you seem so solid and complete. We only take in their ‘totality’. Children sense none of the uncertainty that I now know plagues everyone.
I seem to have written myself into a corner here. I wanted to talk about how much I have always loved Russian Icons, and then everything else would make perfect sense.
But maybe it doesn’t have to make perfect sense. Most of the time I don’t understand myself at all, so maybe I should just quit trying to ‘explain’ the artistic process. Artists mull. We muse. Ponder. Percolate. Then, often when we lest expect it, inspiration is upon us and we can hardly get the ideas down fast enough.
Finally, in the end, that is exactly how it happened for me and this piece of art. After gestating over this image for almost a year and a half, it came together perfectly, over the course of a few days, just as I had seen it in my mind’s eye.
I see in it my aunt’s quiet, focused intensity, but in death, she has grown larger than life.