I was finishing two projects last week, one my own work, a sewn fiber piece that fits under a glass dome, and my Dad's paintings-turned-note cards, that I print for the Morikami Japanese Garden's gift shop. The first year he moved here he painted every week there, and he loved it deeply. He never intended the watercolors to be anything more than something he painted for himself. But after he died my Mom and I took them over to the Morikami for them to see, and they loved them too, and since then I've been printing them as cards.
So my studio was its usual pre-deadline mess, everything piled up together, cards everywhere, my objects everywhere, and I saw, for the first time, a connection between my Dad's paintings and my own work, something I had never really seen before. Our art isn't about the same thing, or made with the same materials, but I could see the heredity, the similarity in the way we balanced color, maybe the way we see what we see.
My Dad and I had approached nature from different directions. He was very traditional, a very direct interpreter of what he saw. The landscape was beautiful for him, an escape for someone who had grown up in the city, who commuted to work every day to the same city, whose personal art always came second to the commercial art he created to take care of his family. Nature was an ideal you lost yourself in, something you paid homage to. Nature, for me, is a metaphor I use as a stand-in for my anxieties, at its source something I love deeply and madly but make over into my own flawed image. He reflected, I make things up. My Dad melted in the country, and for me, my issues outside of it magnified when I was there. In a way, we both longed for it based on the old-fashioned idea that nature can help us define ourselves, our place in the world.
Mixed media under glass dome, 2011
But in the beginning, painting outside was just something we all did together.
Sitting next to him all that time, under trees, in parks, on observation towers, in fields at the side of roads, I learned more about painting than anything I did in art school. School rearranged my thinking, which was invaluable, but only part of the process. This is where the love and the need to paint, to make art, came from.
This was the last time he painted outside, at the Society of the Four Arts Sculpture Garden. I didn't paint that day, I hadn't in a while. I took pictures of the strange leaves and flowers I would later remake and use in one of my objects. So, in a way, we were doing what we did, next to each other. And by this time, his painting was more abstract. More about what he felt, less about what he saw.
And I didn't see what we shared in our work back then. But I do now. And I'm so grateful for that.