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Friday, June 6, 2014

Clementi and Clementini, parents and eye contact




I was reading a book of essays by a favorite author of mine, Francine Prose, called Reading Like a Writer. Toward the beginning of the book there's a reference to the composer "Clementini." After a second I realized she must have meant Muzio Clementi - but my imagination was fired by the idea of Clementini. So I drew them both!

My parents were East Coasters and the children of immigrants, so my early life was noisy and drama-filled. My folks were loud-talking gregarious people who loved dancing and food and parties, and their friends loved them. It took me years to realize that they weren't actually present -- at least not to me. They did all kinds of great things for me, like raising and feeding me and paying for large chunks of my schooling. But my father was always on trips and pretty much emotionally unavailable, except once every quarter when he would suddenly fly into a screaming, red-faced rage. The causes were varied and I never quite figured out the triggers.  I was unable to anticipate these things or to avoid punishment, and I sunk into helpless depression (I think it's actually called that by the shrinks, btw).

My mother I could write a book about. She was convinced I was crazy, and was constantly trying to get confirmation of this. She shuttled me to shrinks and brain doctors, hoping for a diagnosis of insanity. My theory is that her marriage was troubled, but she couldn't sacrifice her relationship with my father - so she chose me as her scapegoat. As a child I simply had no idea what was going on. I internalized my mother's anxiety, and grew up believing there was something terribly wrong with me. After she gave up on therapy, I took it up on my own and continued the search. For what? I've never known, but I'm still dependent on therapists (talk about parental substitutes!).

My parents rarely made eye contact with me, or looked at my face. As a result, I find it hard to remember their faces (they died years ago) and I need photographs to recall what they looked like. Since my father was emotionally absent, men have always obsessed me -- and I happen to like classical music and composers, which is why I draw male composers and musicians so much. In these drawings I pay a lot of attention to facial expression and the expression in the eyes. I draw men's faces as I wish to see them - looking back at me with affection and a long, lingering gaze, as my father should have done but never did.

Doing art helps a lot. It allows me to construct my own ideal world of color and warmth, humor and love and gazing, and people with faces that actually say something to me.

Note - first time I've used hatching brushes on a finished piece. So easy, I feel like I'm cheating! Robert Crumb wouldn't approve of course...