In her early stages of art class, my mother painted a leopard in a tree from a photograph that my father took on a trip to Africa. Now, this piece is fairly mediocre, but it's fine. It hung around the house for years and eventually got passed to my aunt and uncle who hung it in their kitchen when they bought a new house and didn't have enough art. Each time my mother came over she'd insist Take that down. It's so bad. I can do so much better. Yet there it hung for six years. Eventually, my mother got so tired of it that she bought them a new picture and, the next time she came over, switched them out declaring I'm taking back my painting. Here's a replacement.
On my wall in my room is a big watercolor my mother made for me when I was five. It's painted based on a picture of me. In it, there's a small pond surrounded with bright red poppies. On the right side is me, sugar blonde hair and big blue eyes, with the dog, Molly, a beagle who ate so much we called her Pig Dog. The bottom right corner is signed Nanna. My little brother has one too, but he's three, standing on a fence, wearing a cowboy hat, feeding the horse with one hand, keeping his balance with the other. I expect they're pieces we'll hold on to for a long time.
At some point, we kids had grown up enough - gotten engaged in enough activities - that art classes fell by the side for carpool. There was never a complaint about it; it just needed to be done. But, I suppose, my mother missed her art classes more than she'd acknowledged, because when her friends picked up an art class last year, she immediately jumped on the band wagon. And so, on Wednesday nights, she heads to her senior citizen art classes (no one's under 70) taught by their fierce 82-year old teacher.
At this class, she fount YUPO watercolor papers. YUPO is like a whiteboard for watercolor. It's made out of synthetic materials - tree-free. The colors run together on it in really interesting ways, and if you mess up you can wash it off with water and start all over. It's also recyclable.
So my mother's art is abstract as hell. Mostly, she just loves running the colors together in shapes and lose designs. Sometimes her pieces get muddy and brown, but she's getting better at keeping it from going that way.
One night, my mother came home from art class looking horrible discouraged. What's wrong? I asked, expecting it was just a bad night or she painted another picture of the dog that she found disappointing. I was walking out to art class and it was raining and I dropped my art bag and all my paintings fell out and got ruined. She pulled them out and sure enough where sunsets and birds had been earlier were now brown smears all across the paper. I didn't know what to say. I'm sorry. We ought to get you a waterproof bag, I guess.
I worry whenever it rains on Wednesday night. I worry because she never bought a waterproof bag. I worry because she works so hard and is secretly so proud of her art. I worry because underneath every painting is a white piece of YUPO paper waiting to run into a brown smear of mess.