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I was motivated to write this post because I got such mixed reactions to the featured portrait painting entitled, “Polka Dot Tie”. It was not a painting I set out to do as a planned piece with a model or a series. People have negative feelings about clowns these days anyway. My husband is an ex-professional clown, so I am a little closer to the actual thing that most folks! And I have thought about doing a series of clown portraits because I know his friends in the clowning world and it is a dying art.
But back to the portrait. We were at a local Halloween parade (Sea Witch in Rehoboth Beach last year, 2021). There were so many people dressed up and so much activity it was really hard to get any great candid shots without blurring, bumping into someone or not getting the shutter to click fast enough. I don’t like posed shots really, but sometimes you have to ask. Not in this case, however. Clowns and people in costume from various local organizations were passing out candy along the route and I just held out my cell phone from behind a barricade and starting clicking away, hoping for something but expecting nothing. I didn’t think about it until months later and breezed through the photos I got. This face-a 20-something pretty young girl in a strange wig with weirder, interesting face paint showed up on my screen. Perfect shot.
And, I immediately saw a visual metaphor for something more in her face, bewigged and made up, “made up” being the key phrase. How often are we likely to display an outward appearance that has nothing to do with who we really are or how we are feeling. Her strange appearance was in such contrast to the wisps of natural blonde hair that poked out around her wig, the pensive concentration on her face so not a clown expression. She was study in contrasts. I got a 50/50 split between “awesome” and “scary” when I posted the piece online and showed it in a nearby gallery, and honestly, the make up is a little off-putting. I guess the scary comments needled me a bit. Or at least made me sigh. “Look harder, think more” was the internal mental ticker tape going by in my mind. But the viewer is king when it comes to visual art. And as I thought about that, I thought how often I breeze by other artists’ work and make snap judgements or don’t give it a few minutes of studied time. I finished the piece up with a fabricated (literally-fabric collage) background, colorful and flat, contrast to her three dimensional portrait- making the point that the world around her was artificial. She was real.
He was my shadow for 17 years. CJ was a Christmas kitten, a furry, round-faced little white cow with black spots. A red satin bow topped his tuxedo, and he was as bright and perfect as a brand-new stuffed animal. He became the ever-watchful member of our family through my children’s later grade school years to adulthood, and my own journey from stay- at- home mom through commercial art school, divorce, a move after 30 plus years in one house, and finally empty nest life. CJ the cat was my constant, always curled up somewhere near me, under my chair in a makeshift bedroom art studio, or with the kids and I all working at our kitchen table on school assignments. He was the silent observer, with his Batman mask and round amber-green eyes peeking out through the slats of a kitchen chair, patiently waiting for the sound of the electric can opener.
CJ had his bold and mischievous side. He strolled through wet cerulean blue acrylic paint and added paw prints to my first color and design class project. It took forever to drain the intense blue paint from his slippery, soaking wet titanium white paws. He shot out of the bathtub as soon as we were done, rubbing against every fabric surface in the house to dry himself, including my pants. Tissue paper sewing patterns spread out on the floor were an irresistible temptation, and CJ would dive into them like he was pouncing on unsuspecting bugs, one thing he was not afraid of.
But my little friend was definitely a scaredy cat, a quality we shared. He was afraid of anything outside that moved…the wind, a butterfly, cackling birds on a wire. His funny, pitiful, staccato meow was unmistakable as he looked out of a window and watched a leaf skitter across the driveway, along with a worried look in his dark yellow eyes that always made me smile and feel so bad for him at the same time. CJ made a show of wanting to hunt those birds, but he was also afraid of the sensation of grass under his paws, so he was an indoor voyeur. If a crack of thunder surprised CJ while looking out of a backyard window, his back legs would wheel in place and he would tear upstairs in a blur of grey, like a cartoon cat. His huge eyes glowed in the darkness, paws folded over the top step. If he ever had enough of the noise in the house or the raging mayhem of three teenaged children, CJ would hide in a cardboard file box under our kitchen sink that I used for extra hand towels.
With an animal in the house, open doors were an ever present hazard. It was an automatic response for me to watch for the cat after grocery store trips, those times the door had to be left open or to check for him after groups of kids jostled through a back door and didn’t close it completely. We lost CJ once through an open door, but after a day, he was clinging for dear life to a ledge outside our porch screen windows, crying like starving, weary traveler lost for days without food or water. I was so relieved to see him outside of that screen. The thought of losing him forever was one of my greatest fears.
In time I could see my friend growing feeble, and finally CJ passed through the one door I couldn’t close. I never envisioned a life without my sweet boy, and I was sure I saw a small, furry body out of the corner of my eye, or I felt quick brush of his tail against my leg. I knew he still thumped onto the bed while I napped like always. This life is transitory, and CJ’s withering frame and trembling, uncertain gait near the end caused me a panicked sense of grief like water spilled on a fragile painting. His comforting presence was gone from my life forever. But change is inevitable. Everything that lives will die. I still miss him.
The most salient promise we are granted by our Creator is His unchanging presence in our lives from birth to death, and then beyond this life. Hints of heaven, like a deeply imprinted, sepia memory, call to us in our corporeal present. Eternity binds time and space together. I believe a pair of round amber eyes anxiously watch from a window on the other side, staring out at the blinking stars.