I had intended to announce that I’m suspending my campaign for president today, but apparently it has taken on a life of its own.
I’m painting a posthumous portrait of someone who was noted for his conservative political positions. It started out as a fair likeness, loose and easy. Before long my brush was chasing my thoughts, and he had morphed into New York’s late, lamented, liberal governor, Mario Cuomo. So I scraped him out.
My friend Myra Fink told me she didn’t want me to run for president because it would cut into my painting time. Yesterday morning that didn’t seem likely. In fact, I made a list of things I was doing that most candidates don’t have to do, including going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to register a car, taking the dog to the vet, and getting the mail from the Post Office. Handing those tasks off to a factotum would free up my work day nicely, which is something men have understood since marriage was first invented.
I’m neutral on the first governor Cuomo himself. On the one hand, he created many of the institutions that have made New York politically moribund, but on the other hand he looked and talked like one of my uncles. I just don’t want him showing up in my painting.
Painting portraits is a specific challenge, which is why they’re often done by specialists instead of generalists like me. It’s not capturing a likeness that’s so difficult; it’s that fidelity to the subject’s looks is so important that they often come off as wooden. That’s particularly true in this age of photography.
I painted the children of my current subjects a decade or so ago. The painting was set in front of the house they grew up in. It was one of those rare situations in which every detail came to mind at once.
The portrait of my Aunt Mary was painted shortly after her death. It came largely from my mind, and recalls summer afternoons at her house. She was a warm, welcoming hostess and a very mothering person. The blueness of the sky, the clarity of the light, and her eyes were all exaggerated, because this is a painting of memory, longing and imagination, not reality.
I have another portrait in my studio. It followed me up to Maine because I couldn’t finish it. Working on this smaller portrait has helped me understand how to go forward, I hope.