|A series of oil paintings on canvas by Rebecca Wilkinson|
A series of paintings entitled, Ancestors, was conceived during a two-week workshop in
1995, with Chinese painter Hung Liu at Anderson Ranch. The first
painting of this series, completed while still in Snowmass, depicted a
pair of unsavory relatives, a great aunt and a great, great grandmother
standing on the stairs of their front porch in 1936.
As a child I remembered dark stories involving moon shining, the
Clan and poisonings for insurance money that had revolved around this
great “maiden” aunt and her sister.
Perhaps for that reason I had never felt much of a connection to
my own forbearers, until my father began writing a book about growing up
during the Depression.
the same time I became interested in the Asian concept of ancestors,
which defies our Western notion of individualism. Eastern philosophy
regards each individual as one regards an individual wave in the ocean:
inseparable from the waves that come before or from those that come
after. As Americans we rarely question the notion of the “self made
man”, which to people of the East, seems preposterous.
They see themselves as standing on the shoulders of their
ancestors and view their own achievements accordingly.
Consequently, it seemed inevitable that I must confront the
good and the bad characters in my own ancestry, which is what brought me
to Hung Lu.
Fourteen additional canvases followed over the
next six years, all based on old sepia photographs that had surfaced
when news spread among distant relatives that my father was writing a
book about his childhood. Some
are over a hundred years old, shot before the advent of color
photography. The one ancestor with whom I felt a great affinity was my
who emigrated from Moravia as a small child in 1895. Cast in epic proportions in my father’s stories, she is the true heroine, struggling to
keep her family together and fed through the Depression.
Freed from the constraints of local color, the
black and white photographs provided great range for my imagination.
I used my own colors to bring life into this company of souls
staring out at me from their grindingly hard lives in the early part of
the Twentieth Century. Vibrant
earth tones reference their closeness to the land and I suggest their
character using insights from my father’s stories.
Despite their veracity as actual people, their distance from me
is revealed in the passages of thin washes that flow through the
backgrounds like metaphors for the passing of time.
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