Portrait: I Armed Myself With A Grin
This painting of my son, Wells, gave me the most satisfaction of anything I made or created in 2022. It isn’t that it’s perfect: I know that it’s not. But it’s something in which I invested a steady few weeks work, and despite the imperfections, I recognize that it’s probably about as good as I can make it right now. Given that I hadn’t really painted anything in over a decade, realistically this turned out about as well as I have a right to expect. Sometimes we have to let go of the idea of perfection.
A few images and remarks on the painting's evolution:
I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with the background. Right around here, the tragic massacre at a school in Uvalde took place. I was painting a picture of my kid with an eye wound (a little girl threw a metal temperature gauge and accidentally hit him below the eye), and so, outraged and demoralized like most of us were/are by the government's inadequate response to these frequent and terrible types of crime, I decided to add a US flag in the background of this picture of an injured child.
After a while, I decided that the painting was supposed to be a portrait of my kid, not a protest image. I painted over the background and, apparently, lost my way with the main image for a while.
Started to get it back here. In fact, the hair is better here in some ways than in the finished work, closer to the intended effect. I spent quite a while trying to get it back there, without ever quite managing it.
About the painting's title: there's a song I listened to/sang along to with the boys in the car this year more than any other - 'Seventeen Going Under,' an anthemic song of teenage struggle and rebellion by Sam Fender. The song owes a considerable debt to Springsteen's 'Born To Run,' but remains a remarkable piece of storytelling and songwriting for a working-class lad to have produced at a very young age...
The lyrics are memorable, but there's a series of lines in the middle that I particularly liked, understated but potent:
'See I spent my teens enraged, spiraling in silence/
And I armed myself with a grin/
'Cos I was always the fucking joker.'
In terms of the painting, I was thinking about the slight grin Wells wears; but beyond that, I was thinking of the humor that he exhibits every day, and how a sharp wit, a wry grin, can often be your best defense in a fraught situation, can help ease you out of a tight spot. I hope he'll recognize this and carry it with him as he grows-up.
The original idea was to have him paint 'I armed myself with a grin' across the top, but in the end we decided to stick with it as is. It's Wells's painting.
Now I suppose I have to paint one of his brother...!