Photo of Barrier

I took the photo below at Mike’s group home. Along with my usual camera equipment, I brought a tripod and a cable release. I tried to get Mike involved in taking his own picture. However, immediate feedback in the form of a picture for him to see was not possible back then. All I had was a film camera. As I remember, Mike was pretty cooperative that day.  For those of you reading this blog for the first time, my older brother Michael is very low functioning, autistic and nonverbal.

Mike was (and is) unreachable to me. I don’t know if he knows who I am – never did. I use the metaphor of an impenetrable barrier between us. That is how it felt growing up and that is how it felt when I visited him this past November on his 64th birthday. The idea of a barrier has been the source of a number of my recent abstract expressionistic watercolors: (Back to Abstract?VariationMy NicheSketchingBarrier #5 CompletedBarrier Series with GesturesNarrative or Portrayal of Feelings? Icons in Practice)

Although the photograph makes the metaphorical barrier visible (it is really the cable release hanging in front of the lens), this occasion was one of physical closeness. There may have been some connection, I don’t know. I praised Mike on taking his own picture but I am positive he did not understand me.

Jack and Mike self portrait

Today’s study

The photograph above represent both the separation and the desire on my part to be close. I tried to abstract the salient features into my semi-abstract studies below.

Immediately below is the first study. I tried to realistically replicate the face on my side of the barrier and the hands on both sides of the barrier. Michael’s face is the only abstract feature, as it is represented by two black strokes: his eyebrow and eyelashes.

Portrait of Mike and Brother, plus barrier separating them

Brothers Portrait with Barrier
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

For the other study, I used latex resist for all of the shapes hoping to be able to create an even wash. I left all of Mike’s features as negative space, while I painted in the features belonging to me. My hand around Mike is ambiguous. It is on Mike’s side of the barrier, but there is no shading as there is on the partial hand on my side of the barrier.

Portrait of Mike and Brother, + barrier in dark field

Brothers Portrait in Dark Field
7″x10″ 140# Hot Pressed Watercolor Block

Both studies have merit. I plan to revisit them in a more finished composition at some point.

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