Portraits of Love
This series began with two self-portraits, which proved to be an agonizingly difficult task after not rendering the human body for two decades. It felt at first like I’d forgotten everything; I couldn’t make what was in my mind to come out on the canvas. I struggled to draw, struggled with the paint. But I felt that the task was absolutely urgent. These first two paintings were birthed from me like children: with exceedingly hard work and relief at completion. I needed to make them because I had just departed the Orthodox Christian faith after those same two decades and felt my self to be floating or spinning in the void of loss. “Leavetaking” titles the first piece: it is a term used in the Church to honor the end of a holy feast. The next is an icon of myself, a small incarnation of my decision to walk out the door. Once those two were done, I was able to move on to a subject outside myself, but deeply personal nonetheless. My favorite author is the beloved Toni Morrison: no other writer has left me so changed, so connected. Her brilliant, blinding works leave me breathless, aching, and full. My three painted tributes to her are so minuscule compared to all she has done for me, but they were a joy to make. James Baldwin, another great teacher, orator, and poet, his gifts honored in my small but lit-up tribute of Yellow. The two “Shirleys” are in honor of their namesake, who offered me counsel when I broached the complicated subjects of racial justice, cultural appropriation, acquisition, representation, and social justice in my desire to paint human beings. She instructed me to Paint On. I obeyed in gratitude.