Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Art and Death: How One Artist Responds

"Laura's Dad", Pastel, 20x24, ©Toni Ruppert
What is it like to do a portrait of a dying man?  Do you see him as dying?  I’d like to respond to a comment left on a recent blog post.  I recently painted my friend Laura’s Dad not knowing he was THAT close.  It’s the not knowing that I want to discuss with you. 

Didn’t I see his frailty?   Not exactly.

I looked for beauty
I went in with high expectations and because I had no frame of reference--I expected beauty.  He was surrounded by decor that included African masks, a giraffe statue and a painting or two that he had collected over the years.  Greenery was everywhere and his home included a garden and water out back.   

There was light everywhere coming from the big windows and door to the back porch.  The light was hitting the fluffs of his white hair in such a way--they begged to be painted.  His hunter green polo sweat shirt somewhat matched the greenery I saw all around.  Finally, there was an eclectic mix of tunes coming from his CD player.

All of this put me in the painting mood.

I focused on my craft

When I set up my pastels on the table, I anticipated a good painting session.  I grabbed several colors -- some greens, burnt sienna, orange and lavender were among them.  He was very patient with me and even picked up a book to “read” at my request.

And I started to create what I saw.

I looked for the light and tried to express that in his skin tone.  I was in love with the pigments and seeing how I could use them to say what was before me.  I let the pastel sticks do the talking.

I modified my marks

Hence, I was never conscious of anything.  I modified my marks, not because I knew anything but because I was creating and did not know how much to show.  Do I show that crevice with a darker blue or a softer pale orange.  Do I render the thin cheek bones quite that thin?  His slight nose.  I went over certain parts over and over.   The pastels were lovely for this. 

It felt so good capturing his essence.  That he would pass away almost a month later was a shock to me.  My friend(Laura) talks extensively about this experience in her blog--No Safe Distance.

In hindsight, I saw the wrinkles --his large hands.  I noticed that he was quiet.  But in this beautiful moment, I noticed what my eyes told me.  And responded with artistry.  I did not realize that Laura’s Dad was fading.  That may just be a good thing.

Other creative folk can help in responses to death too.
For those of you who might want to create a tribute to your loved one; check out my friend Melanie Jongsma who is a writer who has utilized her craft in this way. 

Beth Lamie is another personal historian who helps people preserve their legacies in story.  Her projects vary from one-page vignettes, short stories and full life memoirs.

Have a loved one you wish to pay homage to? Email me to see if I can help you with a portrait.  I’ll take pictures or take a look at your pictures, and recommend something beautiful. 


Melanie Jongsma said...

Toni, what a beautiful portrayal of the painting process! I love the details you included—they helped me feel like I was in the room with you, getting to know Laura's dad just a little bit.

It may have been unawareness of death that helped you focus on the beauty, and that's a good reminder for us. Yes, death is an enemy, fearsome and ugly, but when we focus on his power rather than his limitations, we give him too much credit!

Thanks too for the mention and the link. :)

Nanci Hersh said...

Great Job on the way the blog is evolving Toni,
Love your paintings- their colors, the feel (do you know the work of Alice Neel) wondering if the orange background may compete too much- your paintings are gorgeous I'd love to see the banner pop as well.

Also, you did a great job about curious about me. Need to work on my profile more in depth.
You're inspiring me to do so.!

keep up the good work.

Toni Ruppert said...

You're welcome Melanie. Thank YOU for commenting and understanding what I was trying to say here. You fully grasped the "unawareness of death" idea.

And Nancy - Thank You for your input. It is so appreciated. I did agree with you and changed the backgrounds. I must look further into artist Alice Neel-Thanks for letting me know about her.

Best to you both!

Susan Tantlinger said...

Toni, I love your blog and the post was so moving.

Susan here from the class. I am getting to where I see that first comment form and want to leave. I had two tries on it, listening to the handicapped form, thought I left a comment....and then see this page. VERY frustrating.

But I love your writing and work. I will come back just for that, I think.....but if leaving a comment is so so so difficult, perhaps other readers would not do.

Toni Ruppert said...

Susan thanks for stopping by--so glad you enjoyed the blog. I will do something about that commenting page. So sorry for the frustraton.:)