To celebrate Rocky’s twelve years (and counting) on this Earth, Mary and Gren, his mom and dad, decided to have an oil portrait. Love, devotion, fondness don’t begin to describe the feelings this animal has engendered from his family. I’m sure they would agree, Rocky has changed them forever. And as he is getting older and his health is coming more into play, they have had to consider how they will remember him. They have plenty of photos and tons of memories. But how will Rocky be actively remembered?
Lately, I keep a sweet grass cross on my dash board. Every time I turn my wheel, it slowly slides from one side of my dashboard to the other. Each time, I am gently reminded of my relationship with Christ. It occurred to me that this is a small example of the kinds of cues we give ourselves in our daily life to keep us focused on what is important to us, on what we have chosen to remember. An oil portrait on the wall acts as a visual cue, gently reminding us of our relationship to the subject. It is a little interruption, if you will, from our busy lives.
My goal, as always, is to make this interruption as meaningful as possible. My job is to capture the likeness and personality, through the physical hints provided. But the physical characteristics of living things are ever changing and evolving, as are the moods and feelings we project.
That’s why a portrait is rarely about the subject alone. It is probably more about the feelings my subject has generated in others. We portrait artists talk a lot about how an oil portrait celebrates the life of a subject. But it really celebrates the life of those who know and love the subject. My goal is to capture those feeling as well in as meaningful and permanent way as is possible. Of course, nothing in this life is permanent, but it is a pretty safe bet that our portrait will outlive us, possibly by centuries.
I take this responsibility very seriously, whether I’m painting a Supreme Court Justice or someone’s beloved pet. The painting I am making will be the primary way future generations will remember us. I know Rocky will be remembered fondly long after he leaves this fleeting plane of existence, in part because every glance at his portrait will remind us of what a magnificent Dog he is and was. And that’s important, if you want to understand the people he has touched.