Jan 302008

You know probably at least one movie where a shrink tells a patient: “Think about your most beautiful memory, imagine the place where you felt most safe as a child.” Well, think about your most beautiful memory and imagine the place where you felt most safe as a child. But if you are having trouble doing that on the spot, these black and white portraits may just strike the spark of semi-spontaneous reminiscence and lead you to the haven of spotless past. These portraits are like portals, and the sting and the rush you might feel going through one is the painful recognition of the gap between its two ends. Maybe I should have taken psychology in university.

The fact that they were drawn by hand, a creative process that multiplies immeasurably the time and effort put into their making as opposed to the duplicate photographs, adds the needed touch of human care and involvement; somehow, knowing that an artist worked on the portraits makes the images more valuable and dear. The painter’s contribution establishes a kinship between her and the owner and adds another thread of sensibility to the cord that links the latter with the depicted child — particularly if it is his or her own younger self. Memories, like children, may also be pampered. The artist’s emotional investment adds, in a roundabout way to the owner’s, and supports and preserves the latter’s.

I could identify two features that seamlessly affect the viewer and trigger a recollection: the smiles and the image cropping. While the first works on the buoyant emotional level, the second seeps in gradually and imperceptibly, much like it happens in a movie, where the camera zooms in slowly on the actor’s face, but we notice it only at the end of the sequence or shot. The black and white palette might also stimulate nostalgia, but I always thought the correlation between dichromatism and our perception of past as rather arbitrary. Still, the two-colored scheme brings a brush of eternity; narrowing the palette down to a minimum distills the essence of the captured moment.

There is one interesting correlation, though: the two smiling children appear to be on the outside, light flooding and sculpting their features, whereas the brooding toddler seems to had been seated against a wall inside an apartment. It’s interesting to watch how nature influences and sets the mood, how such an immaterial thing as a gush of wind and ray of light exert positive joyful effect. It’s easy to light these kids, and these paintings emphasize this innocence. I think it’s best to leave it at that, without resorting to “losing” and “regaining.”

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