Here’s my parachute man, almost finished! This work posed a new challenge. I have always struggled to paint cloth, but this nylon was particularly vexing. The material is very translucent. As I painted throughout the day, small changes in the light affected the shapes and colors throughout the form of the parachute, even where the light was behind it. The other difficulty was the gradual settling of the parachute. I had to remember how it looked when I first set it down and it was still filled with air. These vagaries are a constant challenge when painting anything from life. And of course all of this made it difficult to convey the physical lightness of the parachute, which was important to me. I’m not satisfied yet and I’m probably going to work on it some more.
I find myself drawn more and more toward depicting toys in my artwork, but not just because they can be so fun and playful. As with most of my other work, the toys I’ve selected are loaded with personal and cultural meaning for me. The princess dolls all belong to my boyfriend’s daughter and I began painting them soon after I came to know her. This parachute man was a gift from my boyfriend, Mike, to his son, Liam.
Mike is in the military and he bought this little figure on a trip to England. He presented it to Liam when the kids came to see us this summer. If you twist the nylon parachute in your hand and then toss, it will open perfectly and the little green man will float gracefully to the ground.
It seems obvious that anything related to war and soldiers in art – even toys depicting war – reminds us of the ongoing military campaigns around the world. I reflect often about those who take on the most dangerous roles in war, especially having watched the documentary “Restrepo” recently. I also worry quite often about the huge numbers of soldiers who come home with life-changing injuries. How can we possibly care for all of them adequately?
Clearly, I have strong opinions about princess dolls (see my earlier post). But I’m less sure about toys that have any connection to adult-size violence. I never played with such toys myself and neither did my brother, outside of water pistols. Liam, who is nine, has a large arsenal of nerf guns. He’s adept at war-related video games, and he even has his own pint-size Air Force uniform. More to the point, Mike just re-enlisted to serve six more years in the military and I, myself, spent five years working for the Defense Department. Of course I’m very proud of Mike and his service but there is also a feeling of unease, especially when I think about the magnitude and cost – both in blood and treasury- of the continuing conflicts. Mike often muses that Liam’s life has been entirely post-9/11. Will we still be at war all over the globe when he is of military age?
Perhaps this is a painting about my own ambivalence toward the military industrial complex.