Chiang Mai, Thailand
We sat on opposite sides of the room—me looking on—she, backlit by a window of brilliant light and color. Her white hair glowed along the edges, a bead of bright blue graced the silhouette of her outfit.
There are moments when life reveals itself to be a work of art, and this was such a moment. I knew then and there I needed to paint this portrait.
Portraits are tricky. That’s probably why I stopped doing them a while back. Think about it—what makes a person look different from everybody else on the planet? We all share the same basic structure—two eyes (hopefully), two ears, one nose, and a mouth—more or less in the same location on the face. Yet, each visage is unique. When it comes to “likeness,” the devil is in the details and details can be exhausting.
Then there is the issue of pleasing your subject. No one sees themselves objectively, nor do they ever stare at themselves for the time it takes to execute a painting. They may start out smiling, but eventually their expression settles into something more banal—boredom at best, impatience at worst. Having said that, these days nobody has time to “sit” for a portrait anyway. So the artist is forced to work from photographs—often the kiss of death.
But what makes us “us” isn’t confined to the face. There is gesture or body language, our accouterments and chosen props. All of these elements can play into a portrait.
And so it was with Rebecca. Her features were blurry against a backdrop of light thus freeing me up to concentrate on other things such as the framing of her figure by lamps, desk, and window. Her hands, so elegant, completed the triangle that began at the bun atop her head.
One hand rested under her chin, the other dangled in space. The indigo colored tunic and pants set (moh hong) she usually wore, was the same as that worn by the Thai farmer in the field—the costume of local people. And the glass of water in the foreground, always room temperature as is her preference, provided a simple symbol of life. The massive slab of tree serving as coffee table circled into the composition from below, leading our eye back to Rebecca. She looks straight out at us.
I did a quick sketch, followed by a watercolor. An acrylic painting finally satisfied my artistic urges. Each version has its own appeal: the sketch is fresh, the watercolor glows. In the final piece we see the appearance of Sam See the cat—rumored to be the reincarnation of Rebecca’s late husband. Sam See insisted upon being included by positioning herself on the tabletop and turning to stare me down.
The watercolor is missing. I took both pieces with me to the United States where I planned to give Rebecca’s brother Ray his choice of the two. But when I got there, the watercolor had vanished. It’s somewhere between Thailand and the West Coast.