Just listen, the inner child, let it whisper in your ear. – Grigoris Deoudis
Amour was painted on 28 April 2020, inspired by a large patch of water discovered near the Washington Park Street entrance of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park.
This piece stands out from the others I was making in the early months of 2020 in that the subject matter is not a solitary figure with missing or broken body parts. The theme is not friendship, either, but filial love. As for tone, it is not playful and joyful, but rather peaceful and calm.
One of my sisters is a therapist, and she often has her young clients draw as a way to communicate what they are feeling. So I sent her a photo of Amour. Why would I have painted this? I am not a mother, nor have I ever wanted to be one, so who were these people? “That’s an easy one, Frankie!” she responded.
The painting reminded my sister of a picture she’d seen of me sitting on my father’s lap when I was just a small child. My father was not a big man, she explained, but in this photo he looked larger than life. He has his arms around his little daughter, and he is looking at her. He loves her deeply. In my painting, the baby is wearing blue. It’s a boy. It’s my father, she told me, and the woman is me. I have my arms around my father, and I am looking at him. I love him deeply.
My father died in 2007, but I would cry for his passing only several months after painting Amour. The tears, however, were not for the man whose physical body died in 2007; I didn’t know that man. The man I cried for is the one I knew as a child. The one in the photo I would discover the following summer in one of the boxes of old papers I’d left sitting untouched for two decades in the back bedroom of my family’s home in Maine where my mom still lives.
He called me Toothpick. I called him Vlegie. He would sit and draw with me and read to me. He played with me. I wrote him letters from a mysterious neighbor; he would read them out loud at the lunch table and chuckle. He played guitar, and smoked a pipe. He loved birch trees. I adored him.
Then one day I kicked my Vlegie square in the balls and everything changed. It was an accident, of course; we were just roughhousing as we often did. My mother directed an angry “Ça bon! (Serves you right!)” at him, and everyone in the room held their breath, all eyes on him as he turned his back on me to hobble away. I’d caused him physical pain; this I understood. The shame I’d brought upon him, on the other hand, I did not. We never spoke about it. Not that day. Not ever. I’d killed my Vlegie. I’d killed Toothpick, too. I buried both of them deep down in the soil of my subconcious to rot and be forgotten, and I commenced to punish myself for what I had done. For years I would inflict mental, verbal and even physical abuse upon myself. I deserved to suffer; I was a horrible person unworthy of love.
Not so, art told me. In conjunction with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, it would help me revive Toothpick. Toothpick was funny and spontaneous, she was creative and playful. She was so lovable. Unconditionnally so.
She was also close to God. And in her maker’s eyes, what she’d done was forgivable. Who was I to keep punishing her for it? Who was I to deny her my love? Who was I to prevent her from being free and moving on?
I needed to be quiet and let Toothpick do the talking. She had important things to tell me if only I would listen: God is with you, he has always been with you. God is love. And love is forgiveness.