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Ways of seeing – A portrait of the artist as a young man

My father painted this portrait of me when I was around 5 or 6 years old. He began painting it when we lived in Sweden, and he finished later when we had moved to Ireland. I know this because I recall posing for it when we lived in our little apartment in Kalmar in the south east of Sweden. I have a softer recollection of the latter phase of the painting but I recognise the house outside the window as our neighbour’s house in Waterford, Ireland, so it was definitely created over a period of years. Seeing it again and studying the painting, it made me think of a few things. Firstly the way another person sees you is always filtered through a certain lens and you cannot control that. In this case I see it as a loving gaze of a father and that shines through in the soft energy of the light. It also feels fitting that I appear to be sitting down to write, which ultimately ended up being my own path as an artist & creative. Secondly I was taken with the idea of the drafts and phases a piece of art goes through, and that the completion often comes long after the initial creation. This gives me comfort knowing that even a painting of this scale (the original painting is 5m x 3m) has a series of iterations and drafts, just like my own work. And finally, the slightly hazy, almost ghostly elements to it feel like it is slightly unfinished, or perhaps it was an artistic choice. I like not knowing that. When is a piece of art done? That is a question every one of us must ponder with everything we create.

[VISUAL ART] Charcoal portrait by my father

Spotted this the other night as I was flicking through one of my dad’s final sketchbooks. To me this sketch is a haiku that folds a whole universe into it. This was the last time he drew me and it is a great snapshot of a fond moment. Drawn on a sweltering humid day in the apartment I was subletting in Brooklyn. The air conditioner was broken, so we cracked open some ice cold Red Stripe beers we picked up at the Jamaican corner store. He sketched with charcoals while I played Bob Dylan songs badly. His hand starting to tremor already, but his eye still keen, and the lines still quite certain. By the next summer when he came to visit me, he was unable to draw any more due to his illness and he filled his days going to the Met and the MoMA to marvel at the masters instead. Happy times.