I should let the artist tell the story, for it is really the artist's story to tell.
The birth of a painting is an interesting process, from its initial inspirational genesis to its realization on canvas, and as many artists will attest, the end result is not always what was initially imagined.
When I decided to have an official portrait painted of my husband recently, I searched for just the right photo of him, poring through dozens, and finally I settled on two in particular which I sent to the artist for her thoughts. Not wanting her to be limited by those, I also send her a link to access a library of photographs of my husband over his lifetime.
I had great confidence in this particular artist and her vision, having seen several pieces she had done of various subjects, notably one she had done recently of her father,
and another of her mother.
Her ability to turn the familiar into the saintly, something that eludes most of us, while still maintaining deep humanity, was most appealing. Every line, every wrinkle, every shadow told a story. She needed to be the one to tell my husband's.
Shortly after we started the process, the artist contacted me to let me know that the painting was happening, and not quite as either of us had expected. She'd sketched out both of my initial suggested photos but felt drawn to a different one, and as it evolved it assumed its own life, and its own direction. She described to me a process that was different from anything she'd experienced previously, as though the portrait was painting itself, and kept secret from me the subject until the process was completed.
I should really let the artist tell the story, because, to be sure, it is really Susan Creamer Joy's story to tell.
Unveiled this week, the official portrait of my husband, Lawrence T. Riordan, by Susan Creamer Joy:
"High Flight," by Susan Creamer Joy
Larry was a C-47 pilot in World War II, and the painting is taken from a photograph of the day he took to the skies again after an a more than four-decade absence, one of the happiest days of his life. Flying was his passion, and his great joy.
Susan included in the painting Larry's plane from World War II, "Damn Yankee," and drew further inspiration from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic story of The Little Prince and the story of Icarus.
The poems "High Flight" and "Icarus" (below), both favorites of aviators in general and World War II aviators in particular, were often recited from memory by Larry, whose great loves included poetry as well as flying.
This is how Larry Riordan will be remembered, as a person of passion and joy, on one of the happiest days of his life, taking to the skies.
"People have stars, but they aren't the same. . .You, though, you'll have stars like nobody else. . .When you look up at the sky at night, since I'll be living on one of them, since I'll be laughing on one of them, for you it will be as if all the stars are laughing. . .And when you're consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you'll be glad you've known me."
Dedicated to flyers by Don Blanding
To the restless ones
To all the gallant frantic fools
Who follow the path of the sun
Across blue waters
To distant mountains
I dedicate my book
They failed; Those man-made wings!
Then down the greying sky - A living meteor fell with cruel speed.
A cry part fear, but greater part farewell
to all dear things joined with the screaming of wind-tortured wings;
Farewell to clouds and clear high spaces of the blue;
Farewell to sunlight; gallant daring flight.
He knew the hurt of treachery
when trusted pinions turned to futile webs of tattered gauze.
He learned in those swift seconds all that man may hope to know of grandeur and of sorrow.
This I feel is so,
that ere death's anesthesia blurred away all consciousness
of hope, regret, dismay.
He looked into his heart and visioned there only a thankfulness for answered prayer
that as a crusader of the blue unconquered sky
Having so bravely lived, so might he bravely die.
by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
RCAF 412 Squadron, killed in action 11 December 1941
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Paintings "Muse," "Aqui Esta Mi Padre," "St. Diane," and "High Flight" all by the artist Susan Creamer Joy.
Half Past Pretty - The Art and Writing of Susan Creamer Joy