Sunday, April 22, 2007
When Bad Art Happens to Good People
My mother loved this painting until the day she died. And, not long after the day she died, I inherited it. Because no one else in the family wanted to be saddled with the thing. I knew, just knew, that even through the near overwhelming fog of his grief, my step dad was nonetheless quite calmly ticking down the days when he could safely call me up and say, "Your mother loved that painting so much and I know she would want you to have it. So, uh, how soon can you bring the truck and come pick it up?"
Believe me, I did not go quietly. I first called everyone in the family to see if they wanted it. No one took me up on the offer. Even my cousin Claudia, who adored my mother beyond belief, warned me when I called to say I was sending her some of mommy's beloved books, "But don't you dare send me that Huey!"
How the painting came to become such a disdained part of my family goes like this:
When I was but an innocent toddler, we lived for a while in one of several rental cabins located on a rambling piece of Northern New Mexico property owned by the writer William Eastlake and his painter wife, Martha. Being artists, they liked to be surrounded by other artists. Their other cabin was rented to an up and coming young painter by the name of Kirk Huey. He and my family naturally struck up an acquaintanceship.
One day, my dad said to my mother, "This guy is really good. I think we should take some of our savings and buy one of his paintings." My mother asked which one. My father replied that they were all equally good. She could pick whatever she liked.
I don't remember much about what happened when my father got home that night, but I knew he was mad at my mother about something. Years later he would tell me, "Of all the great work that kid produced, your mother had to go and pick the one piece of shit in the bunch."
It's a mystery to me as well, why a woman of such usually impeccable taste was drawn to such an obviously tasteless piece of art. I asked her about it once. She got a certain look on her face. You know, like the ones co-dependent mothers get when faced with the fact that their son is a good-for-nothing juvenile delinquent. "Yes, your honor, I know he killed seventy five people with a blow torch, but he was always such a sweet boy growing up."
So Let Embers Be in My Wake (yes, that's what it's called) now hangs in the bedroom. It's the only place in the house with a wall large enough to accommodate its size. I still hate the thing, but somehow it seems to fit in this space. While the rest of our house is bright and light-filled, the bedroom is much more dim, almost cave-like. Perhaps that's why it has slowly evolved into a showcase for all my other not quite so shiny/happy art.