By Marcia Gawecki
For my mother’s birthday party on Oct. 6, I decided to create a Pop Art invitation. I didn’t tell her beforehand.
I was kind of giddy, painting my mother in bright colors. It seemed almost dangerous. Like painting a Catholic nun with pink hair.
Then over the next several weeks, Peggy’s portrait went through a distubingly “ugly” phase. Her hair was pink, then yellow, then mint green. Nothing seemed to look right!
Then I added too many colors to her face and neck, making her look Surrealistic. You know, babies and old ladies should not be painted in a Surrealistic style. I just makes them look freaky. Not the vibe I was going for!
During the weeks that I worked on Peggy’s portrait, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working out. In deperation, I’d take a picture to get a perspective. They’d always look too bright or too “muddy.”
I was beginning to think that, after 20 years of painting, I was incapable of painting my mother’s portrait!
Then I remembered my childhood.
You see, I come from a family of artists, writers and teachers. But my mother doesn’t really understand art. She’s a retired nurse and very practical. She raised seven children, practially alone after her divorce. She’s tough, but really shouldn’t be giving artistic advice.
It can be devestating.
My brother, Mark, who is a product designer, is a true artist. He creates sculptures, paintings, and photographs that would make you cry. He really has an artist’s eye. Yet, for his entire life, Peggy would nearly send him into a rage.
“What’s it supposed to be?” she’d ask, thinking of dishware.
“It’s a reclining woman,” he’d say, staring down at the mermaid-looking aqua-tinted sculpture.
“But where are we going to put it?” she’d ask.
What she should have done was congratulate him on finishing the piece, that took nearly 80 hours to complete. Then she should have encouraged him to create more pieces, thereby raising another artist to grace this world.
Instead, she would always say the wrong thing, setting my brother off in a mad rage.
I would console him, warning him not to ask for approval.
“She’s only going to make you mad,” I would say, sounding more like a counselor than a sister. “You’re not going to get what you need from her, so skip it!”
My mother paid for my painting lessons from age 9 to 11 years old, which was an extravagance for our middle-class military family. Yet, it was a lifeline for me as a shy adolescent.
Yet, after every finished piece, my mother would always make me add green paint “so they’d match the couch.”
“But I already signed it,” I would protest. “You can’t change a painting once it’s been signed!”
We both knew that was baloney. I never wanted to add green to match the couch. It was a matter of integrity. What would my teacher say? “Spineless” would probably be a word that would come to mind. In the end, Peggy paid the art bills, and had a stronger will than me.
My paintings always matched our couch.
It took me nearly two months to complete the small birthday portrait of my mother, about one month longer than it should have.
I was thinking too much, maybe worrying about her response. It reminded me of the time that I was working on a portrait of a baby. It was a commission from my manager at work.
But then she started being difficult. Nothing that I produced pleased her. Then I would come home and paint, not realizing that her son was starting looking demonic!
I had to shelve the painting until things improved.
That’s when I realized that there’s a strong correlation between an artist and her subject. I was putting too much pressure on myself to paint the mother who meant so much to me. She was both mother and father growing up, smart but not savvy, often critical and always practical, but not very emotional. Like my brother, I was the exact oppositeI don’t know how a brood of artists came from her!
“Pretend it’s for another client,” my friend suggested. “Don’t think of her as your mother, but just as another commission that you need to finish.”
It sounded like good advice, but impossible to disassociate myself from the woman who gave me life.
In the end, it was the squawking of relatives that made me finish Peggy’s portrait.
“Her party is only weeks away, where’s the invitation?” my aunt asked, clearly annoyed.
When I finally told Peggy that I was creating an original painting for her invitation, she wasn’t impressed.
“Oh, that’s ridiculous to spend so much time on an invitation! I can just pick some invitations at Walgreen’s!”
A Poltergeist voice came out of me.
“Don’t you dare pick up some Hallmark invitations! I’ve been working on this portrait for two months now!”
Printing a full-color invitation was costly, about $2 each for 15. Everyone, including my friend, thought it was ridiculous to spend so much money on an invitation. In the end, I got the date wrong, and Peggy had to buy a sticker to cover it.
It was the ultimate embarassment!
“Did anyone say they liked the invitation?” I asked.
“Yes, everyone said that it’s certainly bright!” she exclaimed.
Bright is different than good. It had to be good.
At the party, I’m tempted to ask her friends what they thought of the invitation. Yet, it’s not going to be what I’m looking for.
An artist once told me that you should not look for approval from others. Even if no one likes your portrait, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do.
Yep, it’s just an 80th birthday invitation, but I’ve put a lifetime into it.
Marcia Gawecki shows her Pop Art Portraits at Acorn Gallery in Idyllwild.
Copyright 2013 Marcia Gawecki Art. All rights reserved.