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Michael James Freedman

Mother and Son Going to Smell the Flowers

Mother and Son Going to Smell the Flowers

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My mom is a person of persistent habits.

My mom is a scientist who likes everything to be just so. She likes numbers and graphs and trends. For example, she tracks exactly how long it takes her to finish the KenKen or the acrostic; she categorizes her expenses, and knows the ratio of, say, zucchini to salmon. And everything she categorizes ends up in some form of graph with double trend lines (linear and logarithmic) so she can see if there's anything to worry about. My mom had polio as a kid, and though she's very capable, she still needs help with daily living, especially now that she's turning 83. 

My brother has been caring for my mother for over a decade. 

He is a man of infinite patience. I think caregivers don't get enough credit for the sheer repetitiveness of it all. My brother helps her with just about everything and he is OK with that, but these things aren't so easy, are they?

When it's nice, they go for a walk together.

They have a long list of very specific routines and scheduled activities, most to keep the house running and for health benefits. But they also have recently started going on daily walks around their neighborhood. In the spring and summer, they stop at houses with flowers, and my mother does her own early-warning covid test, smelling the flowers, to make sure that she's OK. Now that she's vaccinated, they've kept up the routine, since she's discovered that there are benefits to the walk, even without the exercise (recently, my mother has been confined to a wheelchair).

This painting is them before the walk.

I thought about painting her actually smelling the flowers, but I think there's something about the expressions that each of them have here, in anticipation of the outing. I'm currently obsessed with painting parent/child relationships, trying to see how the pair interact as well as what they're each thinking. I'm also trying to show the family resemblance, which is a particular challenge when painting people of significantly different ages or genders. 

It's weird painting these two.

These are not two strangers on a bench. I can't see my mom without remembering how she cared for me as a child, how she raised me and encouraged me to follow my passions, how she'd laugh with delight when I'd get something right or when I told her of some accomplishment. And I can't really see my brother, who's 5 years younger than me, without remembering the time I watched him through his elementary school years while my mom finished her doctorate. Now he cares for her and it's all a bit twisted in my head.

So this is a character study of two people, but it's one in which a third, the artist, is still present. I may not be in the painting physically, but I'm definitely still in the picture. 

This painting was done quickly in just a few days, it seemed to flow off the brush. Both of them are people I know very well; maybe that makes it easier.

The original is 24" x 18", gouache on watercolor paper. 

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