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Thursday, September 01, 2005 | Karen and I are relatively new together – it was a year ago tomorrow that I heard her name for the first time – and I think we’ll still be saying that 30 years from now, because every day with her is original.
I can see it in her face. Every day, in some new way, Karen’s skin does amazing things with light as it comes in from the window. By this summer, it was something that I decided needed to be captured and interpreted in a portrait. I commissioned Dottie Stanley, the San Diego artist (you can Google her) whose work is noted for the way she sees and handles light.
She came to Alta Mira and did a photo study, taking maybe 100 photos of Karen by the window in the kitchen nook, in the study, and by the French doors that open onto the west terrace. When they were developed, she brought back about a dozen to show me.
I selected one, and gave Dottie a second photo, that she liked and that I had taken, of Karen in a red jacket in light from the south windows. Dottie thought the light in that photo was terrific, and hit Karen in just the right way, and I couldn’t disagree.
Dottie said she would do a portrait from both photos, then I could select one, and the other would go into her portfolio. Six or seven weeks later, she came back with the portraits. Both were terrific, but I immediately fell in love with the one of Karen by the French doors. In it, she is not looking straight at you, but down and to the side, in a pensive posture with arms folded in front of her.
As we talked, it became apparent that Dottie liked the other one best, and I agreed it was a great portrait, Karen in the light, smiling in this one and looking at me. Karen liked that one best, too. It caught her eyes perfectly, she said. But viscera are viscera, and all my visceral content wrapped around the pensive Karen and held her tight.
Dottie said she could leave both portraits with us for awhile, and as friends dropped by, we would ask which they liked best. A month passed, and all friends who dropped by preferred the perfect-eyes portrait. I gave them their say but stuck with my favorite.
Last Friday, Dottie called. She was having a Sunday showing at a café, and asked would I bring the portrait we weren’t going to keep. It was a hard choice, even when my choice was so clear. Both portraits were on display, one by the front door and the other where we could see it both from the living room and kitchen.
Karen has not been exactly comfortable with either portrait, as I might not be, either, if there were two oils of me in the living room. Not too many people, in fact, would know how that felt. Talking about which one to keep, Karen’s comfort with her portraits showed a definite lean to one over the other. The one she preferred was not her pensive self.
It was an easy decision. Didn’t take me a minute, sitting there in silence. It didn’t ease my visceral grip any. For two days I clung to the pensive portrait, but Sunday afternoon I took it to the café and gave it back to Dottie. My compensation – there is always compensation – is knowing how romantic it will be, to let this portrait go, a love forever lost, not know where it is, who purchased it, where it hangs, who is the person who loves it as I do. With its element of a beautiful woman caught in a moment of pensive mystery, it is clearly the more commercial painting of the two, and thus the appropriate one to return, to find its special admirers in the world, and I like that.
And there is the chance I will walk into the grand salon of a beautiful residence one day and there she will be. Romantic as hell, I tell you. Meantime, every morning, I see Karen with her perfect eyes and red jacket by the front door, and I love her there, and then I see the subject herself, and I see in what her face is doing with that morning’s light what the artist will never see, and that, naturally, is forever original, and priceless.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.