My Friend’s Uncle

oil on canvas, U.S. Postal Service,  2015

These paintings come with a story and most of the main protagonists are no longer alive.

My friend’s great uncle had a wife and a mistress. The mistress bore his child. It was a secret, but everyone knew. The child grew up without an image of her father. After the man and his mistress (the child’s mother) were long dead, the grown child wanted a photograph of her father. She asked the wife of this man for a photograph of him. The wife refused and made sure her refusal continued after her death. The wife was my friend’s great aunt.

In her old age, my friend’s great aunt (the wife) passed on a bag of photographs of her husband to her nieces. “Burn them,” she said, “so she (the mistresses’ daughter) won’t ever get a picture of him.” The bag was passed from niece to niece, attic to garage. No one had the heart to burn them.

Then one of the man’s great nieces, my friend, had possession of them. Like her aunts, she couldn’t burn them either. Could she dispose of them, once and for all, another way? She mailed me the photos. Would I be willing to launder them, somehow, through an artistic process? Could Art-with-a-capitol-A erase context and bypass ethics? Posing as a modernist, I said I would try.

Must one then separate history into representable and unrepresentable events? No event demands to be represented or not to be represented. There should always be the possibility for choice.– Peter Geimer

When the paintings were finished, I gave them to my friend, the niece.

“The Great Niece with Finished Work”

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