To be human is to know pain. During times of loss and personal crisis, we are thrown into chaos and can often tumble into despair, misery, bitterness, anger and angst. Whether it be physical or emotional pain, we all have dark hours. In those darkest hours, it feels like you are so completely alone and you lose hope. I know, I’ve been there. Yet to be human is also to be resilient. We do heal. Things get better. It just takes time. Albert Camus asserted that “there is no love of life without despair of life.”
Everyone has his or her own path for grieving, for mending…for coping. For those I know hurting now, try to slow down and find solace in quiet moments, simple things. Focus on the senses. The way a breeze feels on your skin. The taste of a treat. The texture of a fabric. A soft touch. Smell. Breathe. Taste. Just be. Staying present and intimate with the moment, requires mastering maitri, the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness toward oneself, that most difficult art of self-compassion.
When my brother Robbie passed away in 2001, it was a horrifically dark time. In my attempt at trying to find order, to cope, I chose to paint a portrait of him, painted from a small wallet-sized senior high school photo of his. I still have it today, it’s scratched and worn, but Robbie’s spirit shines through.
I painted through my tears. I painted and painted, reworking it over and over. My intention was to paint a portrait of my brother for my father as a gift, to help him heal. I spent many months with the painting. I realized much later that my colors were skewed. His vibrancy does not come through. I think my sadness shrouds the painting still.
Robbie’s birthday was July 29. He is always with me but these last few weeks even more so. I honor him with this post. This entire blog is a tribute to him. I miss him every day. His passion and zeal for life and adventure touched so many.
The day after he died in March 2001 his close friend wrote a poem for him. I close now by sharing it with you here.
Jilted To Robbie, March 23, 2001
I loved a man who danced with Life;
He’d twirl her in his arms
Until she dropped exhaustedly-
Too heavy with his charms.
I used to look on jealously,
And wonder if he knew
How quickly I’d replace her
If he’d only ask me to,
Because I feel I wouldn’t tire,
But last into the night.
I’d take his turns and twists and dips
With all my strength and might.
We’d cha-cha, tango, maquerena
Till the dawn broke in,
And once we thought we’d had enough,
We’d jitterbug again.
Unconstant Life, you drew him in
Until you recognized
How much he needed loving you,
How much of you he prized.
So whimsically you threw him off,
Refusing one more dance
To one with whom I’d dance forever
Given half a chance.
Love, Kathryn Dunnington
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. Read more about her inspiration here.
There’s a little boy and girl who live across the street from me in a handsome pink Victorian house. When I first moved into my shabby apartment building with a condemned front deck five years ago, the girl across the street was just a toddler, and an only-child. About a year and a half after I settled in, a large cradle appeared in their front window and a tiny new person appeared in her parents’ arms.
As I’ve watched the kids across the street grow, I’ve felt more and more removed from the comfort of my own childhood. When I first moved to Boston, I was excited to make my first real apartment after college into a home. I created a studio, decorated the walls, cared for plants, adopted pets, mopped the floors, and lovingly kept our dishes clean. But I didn’t really feel like an adult.
I was working a minimum wage job that I didn’t care much about, barely scraping by, and every year that went by was another year that I hadn’t done much with my education. I could never afford to go home for the holidays, so I missed them. I found that I had some of the fatigue of being an adult – of having big plans but always being too tired to see them through, and instead focusing on cooking dinner, running errands, and getting as much sleep as I could so that I could do it all over again tomorrow – but I felt removed from the autonomy that I had always imagined all adults possessed. And even then, I didn’t have nearly as much of the responsibility that I observed in the parents across the street.
I sometimes use childhood photos as inspiration for paintings and drawings. They both remind me of my childhood and allow me to better relate to my parents. I use photographs of strangers on the street or at the park and use them as subjects, and imagine what their lives are like. Sometimes I change the backgrounds to expand the plot of the scene. I’m most drawn to photos where the subjects’ faces are turned away from the viewer because I can relate to people more without the specificity of facial features and expressions. There is more available for interpretation in posture and gesture. I can read into their story like a picture book without words.
Last year, I was staying home sick when I heard the sounds of an aluminum ladder making contact with the dilapidated deck outside my room. Over the course of the next two months, the landlord paid a construction team to sand off all the old paint, build level floors, install handrails, and put on a fresh coat of white paint. For safety reasons, they had screwed my door shut from the outside when they started construction. But as soon as they wrapped up, I was so eager to stand in a place I had never stood before in my own house that I climbed out of my roommate’s window with a screw driver and unfastened the door myself. I noted that when the door closed, it made a satisfying “click” when the latch caught on the strike plate. I brought out a collection of secondhand chairs that I had collected from the side of the road, and invested in hanging flower baskets and a watering can. My house of four years had suddenly grown a new limb, and I now had a place to look out over the street and feel like a part of the neighborhood rather than its eye sore.
There are little shifts like these that slowly budge the breadth of my understanding of being an adult. Shifting to a full-time job. Adjusting my expectations of how often I can create artwork. Commuting two hours each day. Securing health insurance. Starting a retirement plan. Watching my parents retire. Breaking off a longterm relationship that began when I was still a teen. Watching my brother marry his wife. Watching my ex marry his wife. Seeing my grandfather for the last time and recording his voice. Paying the bills. Building credit. Having a deck where I can come home from a long day and daydream about having a place of my own, while I watch the parents across the street shepherd the kids home from school.
As I get older and accumulate more adult experiences, I find myself relating more to the parents than the children in my drawings and paintings, even though I’ve only ever played the role of the latter.
I’ve noticed that in most of my compositions, the parents are often off to the side, or in the background, guiding the children, sheltering them, reading the paper, making sure everything is well. They are not the center of attention, and not engaging in anything exciting.
I think about how my parents did this for my brother and I when we were children, after a decade of shabby apartments and piecing together their rent. They bought a house near a park. They bought us new shoes every year that we wore on walks to the park. They bundled us up in hats and snow pants and pulled us on sleds. They brought home books from the library so they could read to us every night. There is a lot of selflessness there, to raise a child into an adult, but the children must figure out where to go from there. Meanwhile, the children I draw are playing, exploring, and being comforted. They exemplify vulnerability, hope, and energy. Drawing the parent/child dynamic allows me to meditate on the different roles that we play throughout childhood and into adulthood and parenthood.
I was recently sitting on the deck after just having finished a book. It was a Sunday afternoon and I could hear the local high school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance”. It took me a second to recognize it. Its echo was diluted by the sounds from the main road and the train tracks. The kids going by on scooters. The neighbors across the street were ushering the kids to the van. The younger brother came out of the house singing, “N-G-O! N-G-O! N-G-O!” I was in the process of spelling this out in my head when he followed up with, “And Bingo was his name-o!”
Two different groups of kids sharing songs that convey the beginning and end of childhood. It took me a little while to recognize both.
Hannah Dunscombe is a photorealistic painter and portrait artist from Upstate New York. She graduated from Alfred University in 2012, studied Old Master techniques in Paris, and currently lives in Brookline, MA. She spends as much time as possible out on her deck, reading, writing, and drawing. http://www.hannahdunscombe.com/
Art has been in my life for as long as I can remember. I loved everything about it.
In grade school, I would look forward to art class more than any of the other classes. In high school I was like a kid in a candy shop trying to decide which art class to take. I wanted to take them all!
I got married and started a family quite early. I continued to keep it close to me whenever I could, usually through my kids. My husband would always nag me ” You need to paint.” He knew deep down how important it was to me. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I finally realized, there was no ignoring that voice inmy head any longer.
I started taking painting classes, and automatically it all came rushing back. My first love, my true love, my art.
I haveworked in different mediums, but my favorite these days is graphite and charcoal.
I love being able to control the pencil and detail that you can achieve, especially when working on a portrait. I will usually save the eyes for last, because I believe that in the eyes there is a connection to the source- something that goes beyond what we know.
Over the years, my art has lead me to become more connected with my spirituality. It is almost meditative.
The world around me can be beautiful or grim, and it doesn’t matter. When I have my canvas or paper in front of me, life pauses and I can just “Be” even if for a moment.
Holly lives in Richmond, Va. with her husband and two teenage sons. She has been drawing and painting her whole life, and started selling her work in 2010. She is always willing to start a new project if anyone is interested in a commission.
I feel most alive and most connected to the world when I am creating. In college, I fell in love with painting. I received a very traditional art education as an undergrad, learning the foundations of painting, drawing, and sculpture. Our studio time was spent exploring still life setups and the human figure. In graduate school, I branched out and explored other ways to use materials while trying to find my own vision. Through my exploration, I discovered that my work always come back to portraiture.
Anona 2010, oil on canvas
There is something about painting a portrait that feels like a special connection that I am making with my subject. I want to invest the time to really see a person in a way that we don’t get to do on a day to day basis. I use portraiture to explore identity and personality, and how much we can really know each other. I feel a rush of adrenaline when a painting starts to form on the canvas, representing my personal relationship with and interpretation of the subject.
Anona 2011, oil on canvas
When my niece, Anona, was about 10 months old, I painted her portrait. At the time, I wasn’t thinking past that initial portrait. I just wanted to capture her as I knew her that day. Anona is now 7 years old, and I have painted her portrait every year since she was born. That first portrait started an ongoing project that, for me, is about more than painting.
Anona 2012, oil on canvas and Anona with her early portraits.
Anona and I live on opposite sides of the country, so I don’t see her very often. The distance and time between visits make it seem like she is growing up so very fast. It is amazing to see how much she changes and exciting to watch her grow into her own unique individual. Each year, I try to capture her in a way that feels true to my interpretation of her, and shows her personality. In a sense, the portraits become a representation not only of Anona, but of my relationship with her.
Anona 2013, oil on canvas
Anono 2014, oil on canvas
A theme that runs through my work is one of identity and what shapes our sense of who we are and how we present ourselves in this world. By painting Anona each year, I am watching her grow up and become who she is, while creating a lasting document of milestones throughout her life. All of the portraits of Anona live with her on the west coast. While compiling these pictures of the paintings today, I realized that this is the first time that I’ve looked at them all together. I love seeing them as a group and noticing how she changes from year to year. I’m pretty sure she enjoys seeing herself on canvas, as well. I am determined to add to this group every year, for as long as she will let me!
Anono 2015, oil on canvas
Anono with her 2016 portrait and Anono 2016, oil on canvas
Kelly Anona Kerrigan is an artist living and working in Boston’s Fort Point Artists’ Community. She received a BFA in painting from Boston University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University. In addition to painting, she also enjoys designing and making clothing and costumes. Some of her favorite things in life are running, nail polish, and the Red Sox. See more of her work at www.kellyanonakerrigan.com