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In the Name of the Father

My dad and son in front of:
Doug Wheeler
RM 669, 1969
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles


When I was seven, my dad was my light.  My parents divorced, and he and I ended up living in a small apartment.  Our meals alternated between the scrumptious fare on offer at Wienerschnitzel and Winchell’s and while eating chili dogs and chocolate donuts with rainbow sprinkles, we’d listen to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Minnie Riperton.    

My dad had a way of knowing how to lift my spirits then, just as he does today, and this often involves an element of art.  While we lived in the aforementioned apartment, my dad enrolled in an art class at a community college.  He came home on one occasion with a sketchbook, and I couldn’t wait to peer inside.  For what seemed like hours, I looked at anatomical drawings comparable to da Vinci’s.  And when he asked me to be his hand, foot, or ear model, I was honoured.  On a separate occasion, he brought home a stack of magazines and asked me to tear out pages of faces I liked.  I handed him my selection and was a privileged eyewitness to my dad’s uncanny awareness of the special relationship between charcoal and white paper.    

A year later, I was required to try my own hand at sketching a countenance.  One of my elementary school teachers instructed us to choose one American president to draw, and I chose one James K. Polk.  I asked my dad how to approach this project, and he asked if I had a rendering of Mr. Polk.  I gave him the rendering; he took one look at it, grabbed my paper, and proceeded to draw a perfect semblance in all of 12 seconds.  I momentarily contemplated handing in this work of genius.  Ditto for the heart chambers and ear canal he helped me sketch.    

And my dad wasn’t a genius with only two-dimensional works.  In school, I also had to create a three-dimensional volcano and later, one of the California Missions.  My dad was not content to make a simple volcano; my volcano spewed coquelicot and aureolin lava.  And, my Mission came complete with padres, cattle and burros.     

While I was in college, I had to produce a comprehensive colour chart with about 1,000 different values.  I opted to create this hue monster in my dad’s home as opposed to the studio or dorm, as I thought the mere presence of Papa Shade Maestro would positively affect my efforts.    

Even today, just having my dad here provides a certainty in my endeavours, artistic and otherwise.  He is the most prolific artist, and he doesn’t just create works; he is one of the few artists I know who formulates the media he uses to create the works.  Somehow, when I look at him and his catalogue of masterpieces, I can hear Minnie Riperton singing, “The reasons for my life are buried in deep places…”, and I feel safe.    

In honour of my dad, the artist, I wish to share with you a selection of artworks created by fathers, depicting fathers, or inspired by fathers.  The media – including candies, letters from a father, and latex – are intriguing, as is the choice to depict the father.  



Louise Bourgeois
The Destruction of the Father, 1974
Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Galerie Hauser & Wirth

Rembrandt van Rijn
Artist’s Father, 1630


Felix Gonzalez –Torres
Untitled (Portrait of Dad), 1991
Collection of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, Courtesy of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York


Dave McKean
Father and Son, 2003


David Douglas Duncan
Picasso's children Paloma and Claude skipped rope with their father inside Villa La Californie, 1957


Gerhard Richter
Betty, 1988
Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis


Father and Child by Car, early 20th century
Photos of West Central Minnesota Farm Life


O Zhang
Daddy & I: No 29, 2006
CRG Gallery, New York


Kelli Scott Kelley
Father, 2001
©Kelli Scott Kelley

John Mayson
One from the Imagines (a mask of heritage) series, 2009

Category: Art, General, This Parenting Stuff


2 Responses

  1. LOVED reading about your Dad, my friend. Such an amazing post. You two obviously had a very special relationship. Everything from the descriptions of the art projects to what you two ate for dinner growing up are what make this post very special.


  2. T.C. says:

    very nice, Lish! I love the way you write. Your writings take me to a place in my heart where the simplest and little things mean the most to me. Thank you for always reminding me!

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