My son Nicholas is an artist. That is a self-portrait of him sitting on my dining room buffet. That is a portrait of his wife on the wall next to the buffet.
I remember that as a toddler, Nicholas didn't scribble. He simply began drawing faces. His favorite subjects were his grandfather who got a squiggly mustache and his father whom he always drew with a swooping necktie.
In second grade, he made me a Mother's Day card. Even at that age, he showed promise, rendering a colored pencil drawing that captured my shoulders, my hair, my belt, even the stitching on my jeans. But what he didn't capture was my face. Because in his portrait, I'm hunched over the sink washing dishes. He drew me from the back. Oh how I laughed!
I remember the Christmas Eve when I awoke at 2 am to the smell of paint fumes coming through the heat vents and found him spray painting in the furnace room.
When he was a senior in high school, the college counselor told me that two kinds of kids are hardwired: engineers and artists. She said that she found it easier to advise these sorts of students who are so strongly compelled by their innate nature. I was dubious, not about the hardwire bit, but about the easier-to-advise part. "What about job prospects?" I asked her. "Look around you," she said. "Art is everywhere. Someone has to make it."
When he was a senior in college, I remember being shocked by the disturbing art he produced. "Where does this come from?" I asked him. "You had such a nice childhood!" As if he was not allowed to experiment or grow out of the idealized view of him as a small boy that I held in my mind, the happy toddler drawing trains and boxcars on serpentine tracks.
Now, he works hard at a day job in graphic design and struggles to find time, energy, or space to paint. But last summer, he spent two weeks in my basement, transforming an old photograph into an oil painting that now hangs in my kitchen. It is of my mother and me, circa 1964, on horseback in Iran. I've written before about this image and the way it captures my mother's indomitable spirit. (You can read the original post here.)
But this painting contains even more layers. It was a photo taken by my father, painted by my son, depicting my mother and me. Three generations present in this painting.
Photos by Renn Kuhnen