Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Father My Self

Reading Musa Mayer's memoir and biography of her father, the painter Philip Guston, has brought up for me thoughts about the tangled complexities of the father/daughter relationship. I can relate to the force that her larger than life father was in her life - I felt that way about my father, although he was not a famous man. Another thing that she and I have in common is a very quiet, almost voiceless mother. Musa Mayer's mother rarely spoke her opinion and dreaded speaking in groups - my mother was and still is the same way. The strong connection I feel with Mayer is that our fathers were in charge and center stage.

Much of my work is about my connection to my father: the healthy connects and the unhealthy disconnects; feeling protected, feeling unprotected; love that could feel good at times, and controlling and suffocating at other times. I have boundary issues around intimacy and sexuality that are the product of the times I grew up in (the 60's and 70'), and the product of growing up in a patriarchal culture, as well as of my personal dynamic with my father. Boundary issues are at the heart of the panic disorder I've struggled with my whole adult life and are the subject of many of my self-portraits.

Maine artist Amy Stacey Curtis writes in her book, Women, Trauma and Visual Expression:

For artists who have experienced trauma, recurrent symbols and patterns in their work could be archetypal, could contain language representative of personal, cultural, and collective experiences. Furthermore, it may be through the gradual emergence and development of these themes that artists work through their experiences of trauma.

Philip Guston's (whose birth name was Goldstein) late work is filled with these recurrent symbols - this archetypal language which speaks about his personal trauma and the collective trauma of the Jewish world community. I am rummaging through my old work now to see what is there. It is always my hope that my self-portraits reach and speak to others about shared experience and are not, as an old painting teacher of mine accused, "a form of masturbation," implying that they are merely a selfish, exclusive act.

photo: me at age 2 or 3 with my father's shadow.

The One That Got Away/Self, 1997
pastel and pencil on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
collection the artist

photo detail: my father's hand and mine
In/Out I, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 29" x 41"
lost in studio fire

me and my father on our way to the annual Dancing School party, 1966 (though you can't see them here, I'm wearing my first pair of heels - white pumps. We won the trophy for best father/daughter dance partners!)
Surrendering Self, II, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire

me and my father at Point Judith, RI, 1971

Witch's Milk II, 1991
charcoal on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"
lost in studio fire
me with my father and my sisters Amy and Debby, at my brother Steven's wedding in 1972

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