Portrait of my son & grand-daughters

Edward G. Nilges, “Portrait of the Artist’s Son and Grand-daughters”

I received a photograph from a family member but my request to my son for permission to post it has gone unanswered. I’d resolved to let my son control the amount of involvement I am to have with this joyous event since I left his Mom when he was little (but was a caring and responsible non-custodial parent).

Therefore to honor my commitment to my son yet celebrate the blessed event I hatched a cunning plan. I have made a pencil sketch after the photo as above.

Art is seeing something without illusions. First of all my son’s eyes are so damned large, like his Mom’s, that they violate the art skewl rule that the iris should fill the eye and the “whites” not go under the iris. Second is I don’t know why he’s wearing a hoodie in August I thought there was a heat wave. Sure he doesn’t fetish the hoodie and I insisted on wearing a lined jean jacket in the summer of 1967.

Surely he could get a nice Brooks Brother’s shirt? Ha ha. Hey, I’m just the father. The hoodie is fine. But don’t get me started on Guy Fawkes masks. We must not be afraid as young men are to show our faces, and there’s a creepy if buried insistence in that idiotic mask that we all be white males. I should have thought that we want the rich to know that we are a rainbow that is unified but what the hell do I know?

Third is the nose. When I had the children with me at Princeton my waggish coworker said he’d seen them and knew they were mine because of the nose. It has a real structure which has to be brought out.

I can only scratchily suggest the babies. They are not yet beautiful in the conventional sense they are rather like little boiled things. But I find them moving all the same. Babies don’t come into this world raring to go, they want to sleep away the trauma of birth, their little eyes shut and their mouths set in rage after having to come crying hither…as if we did them no favor.

But to me they are incredibly moving so I draw symbols of them and Peter’s hand to protect them. The symbols are like Buddha because babies retain much of the character of the soul of the world after they are born.

Nyah ha ha: cue Dr Evil laugh. I hope my son doesn’t get angry with me. We so judge our fathers. Me, I got tired of being bitch slapped around as I was by my father whenever I crossed his very well defined boundaries and it looks like I’m getting this shit from the other end today. Why I don’t know. Maybe I was a truly awful father and a Bad Son.

Art has got to be OK. I understand the transgression of photography. I have no right. But I took responsibility here for my relationship with my son as Cezanne did with his son. There are differences between the photo and this drawing. In the photo Peter’s glance is veiled and mistrustful and a bit cheeky and know-it-all you ask me. In the drawing I naturally make him connect for that’s what my subjects do.

It’s as if I am trying to remake the family through art and undo what I did as an absent father. But wait. Can a person be blamed for trying to clean up a mess he made? In some families the answer is yes. Wives no longer wish to hear tender words from husbands when the last tender words were always followed by blows later on. But they stay together and watch TV and save for retirement, oh, five thousand bucks or so.

Well that is all I can do for now. NOTE: do not tell me to calm down and forget all this that is schone undt treue undt gute. I defy the motto of damaged existence that we no longer deserve Shakespeare and what Allen Ginsberg called the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit.


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