I painted this oil portrait (which is NOT a good likeness!) of my brother-in-law Brian when I was age 19. I remember I was studying under Shirlee Prescott at the time and she advised me on the colors. I used a black-and-white photo (taken by my sister) as a reference.
John Singer Sargeant said, “A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.” And that applies here! His mouth and chin aren’t quite “there” yet. But, since it wasn’t that embarrassingly bad as a portrait (of someone), I put it up on one of my other websites many years ago and didn’t think much about it for a very long time.
Until today. Brian died suddenly from natural causes a few days ago and the news has just broken on social media. Everyone who knew him is in shock, adding memories, sharing thoughts, and I didn’t know what I could contribute. Then I thought of this. This painting. This is my contribution. I just wish it were a better painting. But it still is a painting. Oil on canvas.
Paintings have a “permanence” to them that is unique. That’s why people commission artists to do portraits. A likeness of a person takes on more weight when it’s transformed into paint on canvas, filtered through an artist’s eyes.
Portrait paintings invite attention and a chance for discussion. Paintings often will get “spread” farther online than a simple snapshot will. People will discuss the painting on its artistic merits and sometimes start thinking of the subject of the painting too… and that’s why paintings are a special kind of memorial. If the painting is particularly good, the painting gets seen by more people—who will then see the painting of the person, the subject of the painting.
When you lose a loved one, one of the things you want most is for them to be remembered. They are gone from this earth, but it’s so comforting for something of them to be left behind in a tangible form. A painting can be one of those things.
You are here today because you like art and somehow found my art website. I am here today because of Brian. I want to share some things about him for a moment.
Brian has been a wonderful father and husband. He dealt with our crazy family shenanigans with long-suffering endurance. He was the father of two remarkable sons. He has two amazing daughters-in-law (who adored him—and you know you’ve succeeded as a parent when your in-laws love you!). He has two beautiful granddaughters, and he also leaves behind a sister and a niece.
He was a flight test engineer who had a life-long passion for planes. He built his own small aircraft and of course was a pilot. This passion spread to my sister, who also learned how to fly.
Recently they got their dream house in a “residential airpark,” a community for
plane geeks, uh, fellow flying enthusiasts. It had this HUGE hangar for his planes and he spent a lot of time tweaking things there. It was a dream come true for a plane geek flying enthusiast like Brian. But it was to be short-lived—they only enjoyed a few years at that house. I feel that injustice acutely. But at the same time, I’m just so grateful that he got to enjoy it at all.
You leave a big void in our lives, Brian. I know you are flying with your own father now (who was an Air Force pilot). God bless you.
One of my awesome nieces-in-law sent me a cell phone pic of another piece I did of Brian. Drawn when I was the same age (19), with the same problems with chin and mouth. (Mostly the chin.) But hey, it’s a good lesson: You do get better with time and practice!