The other day I saw my eighty-eight-year-old neighbor in her backyard, looking at the roses.
Like clockwork she is seen under her jacaranda tree enjoying the late afternoon. This time she had her feet propped up on a small outdoor table, the backdrop were vines along the fence. In my mind’s eye, I saw a painting coming together, so I ran out and met her. As usual she received me with her unique laugh that is translated as “well, here we are!”
Being an interesting matriarch of our neighborhood, she likes to tell us stories about her life as a dancer in Hollywood. I can imagine she must have been a young devilish girl. Sometimes she likes to recall some of her humorous transgressions, share her insights on the things she has learned and the things she doesn’t understand.
The More Things Change
When I visit with her, I remember this phrase; The more things change, the more they stay the same. As a young person, I would hear that and just nod with a perplexed smile on my face. How can things stay the same if they are changing? It makes no sense.
As I get older, the idea makes more sense. The experience of being human is likely very similar no matter what time I could be in. There are always problems and concerns, delights and joys. I imagine this human experience is generally the same whether I was living in my time now, where I can drive a car and check the internet or if I lived when I would have ridden a horse and sent a telegraph. The world around us changes, yet the experience generally remains the same. We laugh, love, gripe. We may even ask ourselves, if life is a joke, why does is no one laughing? Well, perhaps in the end we are, although sometimes we may be between punchlines.
The More They Stay the Same
Every age seems to have its own modernity, a speed at which life operates, either by train or by plane, telegragh or internet. Yet, with all the answers and facts at our fingertips, we still wonder what this whole life is about, we still fail at things, we wonder how to relate to each other. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Art Informs Life, Life Informs Art
To look at art is to see ourselves. Whether art is imitating life or vice versa is a timeless question. I like to think that art and life inform each other. What we surround ourselves with or expose ourselves to, may influence our perspective on other things.
While I was making the painting of our beloved neighbor in the backyard that day, I remembered one of the single most important things when it comes to painting people. Above likeness, is character. There must be something that indicates within the strokes, a portrait of who the person is, and less of what he or she looks like. Get the character, get the portrait.
I noticed my subject for this painting, a woman of many stories, was sitting and looking far off. I was hoping she wasn’t bored or perhaps needed anything. Her pose was perfect, but I shouldn’t expect her to do anything she didn’t want to.
I asked her, “Everything alright? Can you stay like that for a while?”
She kind of “came to” from being lost in a thought and said, “Sure!”
She chuckled ”I was just looking at the roses anyway”.