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My Child, My Canvas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stuart Sheldon, BT Contributor   
June 2017

An epiphany is born of anger

“WPix_FamilyMatters_6-17hat are anger issues, Daddy?”

My ever-perceptive six-year-old asked me this on the ride to school six months ago, having somehow heard the term in his first-grade classroom.

The week before had been the most hectic and exhausting Art Basel of my career, with my work featured in several fairs and painting gigs in the evenings. A couple of days post-Basel, while I was still recovering, this very boy had stood barefoot and shirtless in my studio, hands gloved in still-wet hunter-green watercolor paint, splotches on his shorts, inner arms and legs, one patch in the middle of his back. He was home sick from school, so I was forced to bring him with me into the studio -- and in 20 minutes, a bus with 11 collectors, one of whom had been paying attention to my career for over a decade, was due to arrive.

Tiny green footprints scattered from a seeping puddle in the middle of the floor. Beside the puddle stood a rectangle of cardboard covered in swirls of this same muddy green. Next to the cardboard lay a dozen squeezed tubes of watercolor paint, each with its cap off, wounded soldiers in my son’s apparent victory with his verdant imagination. I gazed at the mess as the boy stared up at me, grinning slightly, fingers spread as the paint dried between them. Sun poured in from the open garage door, backlighting his cherubic face.

I shut my eyes and started shaking like a broken toy. Then I turned from him and literally stomped my feet, and howled, “No, no, noooooo!” to the concrete floor.

When I turned back, my boy stood crying. “You didn’t tell me any rules, Daddy. You didn’t tell me what to do!” His small body shook. He spoke the truth.

As a self-taught abstract painter, I pride myself on being one who lets it flow and trusts the mood of the day to choose the palette. More gut, less mind, precisely what my son did. He let his curiosity out and clearly enjoyed where it took him. He felt green and let the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet express that feeling. And in response, I trampled the flames of his passion, frightening him with a clenched body and raised voice.

Shame on me! My lovely boy’s only crime was doing exactly what I gave him permission to do.

Sleep deprived, hung over, and emotionally thrashed from a week of playing the art game, I wanted my studio to be tidy for the guests. I resented having to babysit in the midst of an important meeting. “I want to paint, Daddy,” he said. So I handed him paper and paints, and showed him where to go about his creative machinations in the next room. He got straight to it, as I hung works and swept up and dove deeper into my own fatigue.

“What does this look like?” he must have wondered, opening one, then another of the paint tubes. He was free to dictate the mixing and matching to his heart’s delight. Each color elicited a different sensation and each combination became something new. He brushed at first, then opted for his hands, because who doesn’t love finger-painting? And how about footprints? Even better.

Eventually he experimented with every color in the box. Why not? Daddy said I could paint -- and who says you can’t have it all?

I guess I did, when I started yelling at the air.

So, my lovely sentient youngest child, to answer your question -- anger issues are the residual stink left when a dad squelches his boy’s beauty and doesn’t bother to own it.

Lucky for us both, I immediately saw the error of my ways in the sheen of your tears. And later that day, feeling crushed myself, I explained how wrong I was. How sorry I was. How sad that I gave you the idea that it was not okay to make a mess in the studio, when that’s one of the best reasons to have a studio in the first place. And I told you again that night and again the next day, because…what anger issues remain from my complicated youth shall end with me, and not be passed on to your gleaming beautiful heart. You, my exquisite mess-maker, my teacher. My canvas.

You are most welcome into my studio any time. Come paint with your darling toes. Let’s do it together. Let’s paint our feet and dance on the canvas. Big footprints mingled with little ones. You pick the colors.

 

Stuart Sheldon is an artist, author, and Miami native. Find his Meet Your Makers series in Art Loft on PBS. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram at @stuart_sheldon and subscribe to his Fancy Nasty blog at stuartsheldon.com.

 

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