Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"But, man, could that guy paint."

If there's been a hiatus on this blog (and there has), I can't chock it all up to a huge amount of work, or tireless invention, or even blogger fatigue (though they do take part) - the summer of 2007 has become the Summer of 1001 Engagements: weddings, graduations, bachelor parties, brises - they all have taken me away from the unholy, never-sated maw of The Blog (ok, maybe not the last one). That said, I've been back to my home, in Boston, several times in the last few months, and while there, I usually stay at my mom's place. And therein lies the problem.

First, a few caveats: I love my mom, in all of her glorious weirdness. Normal moms leave me a bit cold; to what other mom could you come home to at 2 AM on a Tuesday from a night of drinking, to find her painting on Polaroids, a pot of tea on, with a Werner Herzog movie on the television? Not many, I would hazard. And secondly, I know my mom will never, ever read this, unless someone prints this page out and gives it to her, because she avoids computers like other people avoid boiled giblet stew and tongue sandwiches (two faves of Mom's).

You'll excuse my apparent immodesty-by-relation or whatever you want to call it, but my mom also happens to be one of the greatest painters I have ever seen let alone met, and, I would hazard, one of the last true romantic painters out there. I say this without pretense to fame, without name-dropping, and without really any askance of someone else to confirm it. I know it is true. I challenge anyone, be they first year art school student or longtime curator at one of the great museums, to come and inspect the piles and piles of jaw dropping working that lays about our home. I can assure you they will come to the same conclusion: she occupies a realm of talent, dedication to craft, and patience, that sometimes seems to have left this world long ago. The one oil we have hanging in our house regularly causes visitors, be they art directors or handymen, to stop in their tracks and gawk. Her work is that striking, and yes, she is that good.

Additionally, I can also assure you she will never be known for it. The history books lie closed to her. For one thing, my mom is the very antithesis of self-promoter. But more than that, the amazing thing is that she doesn't seemingly yearn for that recognition. She does it because she can't do anything else. She paints, because she paints. That is all. In our world of resume advice and marketing seminars, I admire the hell out of that. It seems like such a quaint notion: doing what you like, for you.

I was sitting in what was my sisters room at one time, and is now the guest bedroom, the other weekend, and the subject of painters came up. She is a ferocious Impressionist fan, but not in the gross, sorority-girl, everyone-has-a-print-of-Water Lilies way. She could give a crap about the subject matter. Hers is the eye and recognition of a tradesman, a draftsperson, one who understood what incredible vision, and yes, talent it took to assemble such images out of seemingly random lines. What a deep understanding of visual cues, what a keen way to observe the world: the break down a reflection on a jar with a stroke just so, and just so. Beyond whatever art school claptrap they teach you about the Impressionists, comes through a deeper understanding of what it was they did, each action, each specific mixing of colors, back when paint didn't come prepackaged in 90,000 colors. She appreciates the actual work of it.

I am nervous when it comes to art talk with my mom, not only because she knows so much more than me, but because she so much more of a talent than I am. After her diatribe about her amazement at the great painters, it was my turn to be put on the chopping block. I asked about imagination, that surely the current crop of comic artists and skateboard painters, the printmakers and Pop Surrealists, they had an imagination to the work that made up for the oil painting that took monthes to create, surely the intellectual breaking out would somehow take the impressive place of a nineteen hour sitting with a Pope. She shrugged her shoulders. In a roundabout way, I asked her if she respected what I did, viewed what I did in a similar vein, that I too could be included in her codex of art. She told me she was jealous because my work took so much less time. And I still got paid.

And still, we struggle on.


Molly said...

I remember that time when the maintenance guy was fixing something in our last apartment and his jaw literally dropped when he saw that painting your mom did of you and Duncan when you were kids. He said something to the effect of: "Wow! Isn't that by someone famous?"

Duncan said...