As I sit to write, I’ve decided to insert some pages from my past year’s sketchbook, to appease the loyal readers whom I’ve neglected over this busy holiday season. I like the range of these drawings, from random doodles to detailed studies.
I’m sitting by the fire with a glass of wine, my books scattered around me. My wife, now seven months pregnant with our second child, is sleeping soundly on the couch. Liam gave me a good fight tonight, but he lost- his head hit the pillow an hour ago, and he’s sound asleep. There’s a terrible rainstorm outside, but I’m sitting inside with a pile of dry, chopped wood. It’ s one of those nights that I always wish for. And so, as I sit by my fire (I don’t mind being a cheesy Christmas cliche tonight), I find myself reviewing the past year. I think about what went well, what went poorly. What efforts succeeded, what was fruitless. What was enjoyable, what was not.
The first event of the year was the most important, the return to Florence. Half the reason was so that I could re-enter the Charles Cecil Studios, to study anatomy and paint the figure better. But, there was another personal issue that had to be worked out. To be perfectly honest, the other half of my reasoning in returning to Florence was to conquer some fears. When Margaret and I had Liam, I found myself overwhelmed by the new responsibilities I had. I knew all these concerns were common, but I was frightened at the thought of living abroad with children, of immersing my family in a different culture with a different language. I was comfortable with staying put in New York forever, with an occasional week long vacation perhaps. But, I was a bit too comfortable in my little world. New York is great, but I don’t want to be confined to anywhere due to my desire to remain comfortable. I just found myself becoming just a bit too “safe.” Perhaps my reluctance to live abroad again was owing to the fact that my parents moved back to Ireland when I was a child, back to where my dad was born. I loved being there, though they found it very difficult, so much so that we returned back to New York a year and a half later. My parents consider their decision to return to Ireland to have been one of their greatest mistakes, and it seems to have affected their outlook on life. Who knows, for them it may have been a mistake. But, I just didn’t want to live in fear of anything. And so, I had to learn to paint the figure, and I had to confront my fears.
Margaret and I moved to Florence on January 1st, 2009. The next five months flew by, it was the most wonderful time of my life. It was definitely difficult at times- Liam got very sick, and we needed to rush him to a hospital in the heart of Florence. But, we emerged from the hospital with a healthy baby, and the courage that we had gone through something very difficult and had emerged stronger. I would take Liam on walks, five hours long, holding him in my arms as I rambled through the countryside and alleyways. Margaret adjusted well, and learned how to actively seek out friendship with other mothers, especially difficult in another country.
At the end of our stay in Florence, I painted Anna. It is a painting in which all of my artistic hopes were fulfilled, and past problems were ironed out. With Anna, I was finally able to move beyond portraiture and into figurative painting, because I finally learned how to see the whole picture. Anna is a painting which, for me, has opened up endless possibilities.
Following Florence, our tenant moved out and Margaret, Liam, and I moved back into our house in Islip, New York. I immediately resumed painting. I was charged with a new energy that came from my figure studies in Florence, and from my visit to Sorolla’s house in Spain. Sorolla painted his world, he painted his family and friends with such intimacy and humanity. I came back to Islip, back to Long Island, with a new confidence. I eventually found a new, incredible studio that perfectly complemented my new vision in painting. Here in Islip, I would paint my life, with all of the power, dignity, and poetry found in my everyday world. And so I painted Dan Acosta, the hefty, gentle spirited heavy metal rocker from the north shore of Long Island; I painted Patricia, a wistful woman with striking, dark features who works at a local cafe. I painted Murphy, a bearded Vietnam Vet who lives a town over; I painted Matt, my friend since childhood. And most meaningful to me, I painted Margaret pregnant with our next child.
I will end this summary of my year in saying that, if I didn’t go to Florence, I wouldn’t have had the technical ability to paint any of these works I just mentioned. Most importantly, if I hadn’t gone to Sorolla’s house in Madrid, then I would not have had the eyes to see the beauty in front of me. Sorolla taught me not how to paint beautifully, but how to see beauty, which is infinitely more important. This might be the single most important gift any artist can give to any other person.
Here is Sorolla’s painting of his wife and child, and here is my answer to his work.