Love as the foundation through thick and thin
Words and images by Peter Bruun
Susan’s father died Wednesday, April 3, 2013. The words written on this drawing are from the eulogy Susan offered at his funeral in Los Angeles, and were shared again at a memorial service in Baltimore. Susan is an artist herself, and as a visual person would have picked up on the similarity between her father’s hands and her own, a beautiful metaphor for the deep connective tissue between parent and child… a DNA connection running through all our ancestors, linking us with a kind of weaving thread. In my drawing, I somewhat directly illustrate Susan’s words, with two upright forearms and hands, different sizes and colors but parallel in shape, expression, and form. The red at the bottom is less specific, more generally symbolic of layered love, in synch and harmony as one. (As in most drawings, I select and transcribe only an excerpt from the full love letter or equivalent, zeroing in on the salient passage that resonates for me.)
In the one thousand love letter drawings, there are several recurring compositional arrangements between words and image, one of which is present in this example: a spiral-like figure, with words alternately left to right from top to bottom. I tend to use this approach when the words lend themselves to being broken up, and when their content has a certain exuberance. In this case, Jessica’s words (written and shared with friends on the occasion of Jessica’s birthday) express a joyful sense of her mom’s immortal presence, and gratitude in being able to share that joy with a collection of dear friends. In this drawing, the abstract figurative form in black ink representsJessica, alive and real, and the watercolor blue accompanying the black ink’s contouring form a symbol of her mother’s spirit, ever inhabiting her and who she is. It is a drawing of forever family love.
At times – to various degrees of success and failing – I simply start drawing, allowing intuition to guide me. This is one such drawing, at least in part. The logical aspect is there being two forms: on the left, an abstract figure in brown ink, seated and bowed, intending to suggest a kind of melancholy, and on the right, an orange form with lines infiltrating the figure to its side, even completing it to some extent. But why I draw that orange form as I do – so unexpectedly shaped – somewhat defies explanation. Nonetheless, I arrive at two figures in relationship, apart and yet connected, as one might find with a father in jail and a son longing for him. The inspiring letter came my way via Randy’s longtime mentor, Ryan, who shared it with me some time afterRandy’s murder in Baltimore. The unexpected shape of the figure in orange? Perhaps explainable if we think of it as Randy, with Ryan the brown-inked figure sitting in grief at his passing beside him, forever touched by this wildly unexpected family-like relationship.
I have three daughters, each of whom I love fiercely, each differently from the other. This drawing is based on a letter to my youngest, Sophia. At the time I had written it, I had been keenly aware of my shortcomings as a parent – my inability to protect my girls from the vagaries of the world, my own fallibility in their eyes (in this case, Sophia’s eyes). I wanted to try to put into words all that, as well as articulate what really cannot be articulated: a parent’s ferocious love for a child, and all the grieving that comes along the way. In the drawing, I imagine myself the little dark figure on the left, Sophia the haloed blue figure on the right (a child always as at birth: perfect). The red: my love, from me and holding her. An unintentional but unmistakable aspect of this drawing is the ghostly white shapes, accidental residue as I edited the drawing, painting out in white unwanted marks and lines, but suggestive of the ever mourned child left behind on her journey from infancy to adulthood.