I’ve painted something a little different lately. Different… but somehow familiar.Many people have asked me about it, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect and share. I’ve embarked on a family portrait of sorts. This piece, Siblings, is a departure from the landscapes that I love so dearly and the life studies of my friends and models. Perhaps it just appears as a simple still life of old pottery arranged in an exacting manner. And perhaps, in fact, it is just that.

But as I was sorting around my studio looking for items of character to sit still for my study, I fell upon these old pots buried in a long-sealed box. As I dusted them off and twisted them around looking for an interesting arrangement for the visual triad, I was reminded of another three of a perfect pair.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with my upbringing and likely know of my sister and brother-in-law, Diane and Ben Long. You may know that it was Diane and Ben who raised me after my father’s death, taking me to Italy when I was 10, while Ben studied under the Italian portrait and fresco painter, Pietro Annigoni. Indeed this small band was my family, but you may not know that we also had a brother, Mike Griffin.

Mike was the oldest. He was a good 10 years older than me. He ran with a tough crowd and helped my father at the mill (My father ran a series of textile mills for the Branson Company in Monroe, North Carolina). After our father’s death, Mike never quite recovered. He was obsessed with understanding why and how those responsible were never brought to justice. Vietnam took its toll on Mike too, and time eventually wore him down. Even so, I looked up to him. Always. He was my older brother and god-like in my eyes.

That’s the thing about family -about siblings – they are that collection of fellow humans with whom you have a unique biological bond. You didn’t choose them, and you may not get along with them, but you are made of the same clay. You know their weaknesses and struggles, and they know yours to a degree that the rest of the world will likely never know. And in some ways, either through biology or your shared formative experiences, you can understand.

It struck me, as I was still resonating from Mike’s recent death, that the cracks and chips on these old pots were in a way comfortable. Familiar. As I turned them in my hands, their imperfections seemed to be worth honoring.

It is these imperfect pots on a table which become a metaphor for my siblings. It became a way for me to honor my recently deceased brother, Mike, in some pictorial format that I was comfortable with. A way to give meaning to my picture while honoring those I love, through a still life.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen

 

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