Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Photography As Memory 3: Discoveries

In cleaning out our parents' house before selling it, my sister and I have been going through many years of accumulated Stuff, and making discoveries along the way.

untitled, © Pamela Barick

This painting was one my sister painted probably 30 or more years ago, when she was still a young artist. My sister, Pamela Durkee Barick, is now an accomplished artist in several media, including etchings and ceramics; she also is a skilled quilter and bookbinder. Several years ago, Dad hung several of my sister's paintings on the walls in the hallway of the finished basement that led to his small office there; I must have looked at this painting a hundred times. When we were putting together the stack of her canvases that she was going to ship home to herself, I asked if I could keep this painting, and she cheerfully gave it to me. I have always liked it, and it will hang on the wall of my music studio in my own home, which I am moving into soon. That wall will have a lot of artwork on it, in a room devoted to creative pursuits.

I post this painting of my sister's on her birth date, as a thank you and a birthday greeting.

This is a watercolor of Mahabalipuram, the famous seaside temple in southeastern India, not too far down the coast from Madras. It is one of my favorite temples on the planet. I have memories of visiting this temple when I was a small boy; it was a place we stopped for a day or two, when we were on vacation from Dad's medical work in Andhra Pradesh. We often spent our vacation time on the ocean; I have photos of myself circa age 5 with a surfboard in the gentle waves of the northern Indian Ocean, probably the only time in my life I've ever surfed. I have vivid memories of Mahabalipuram; there is a promenade inland a little ways, lined with smaller temples and trees, and pairs of life-size stone statues of elephants. I remember being there in the light just after sunset, when the elephants seemed to start to move in that fading light.

This is a painting my mother brought home with us from India. It has hung on the wall near the piano for almost 20 years, and it one of the India paintings I am keeping. It will hang probably in my bedroom in my new house, near where I plan to keep my sacred artifacts.

Mahabalipuram was miraculously not destroyed by the December 2004 tsunami that ravaged the eastern Indian shoreline. There was a breakwater and as you can see, the temple itself is protected by a prow of stonework that juts out into the ocean. I understand that the force of the tsunami was split and swept around the temple. There was water in the temple, of course, but it was spared the brunt of the wave, and is still there.

Among the many other objects my parents brought home from India are several decorative metal plates; meant to be wall-hangings rather than serving plates, some of them have graced the house walls, in rotation, for years. I am keeping a pair of plates that depict Hindu gods; there is a Shiva Nataraj and a Saraswati, for example, that are made of worked copper, brass and silver, that will hang in my new home.

Shockingly, this beautiful, simple, elegant plate was one I have no memory of. I don't know if I ever saw it before. Or it has been so long that I'd forgotten it. It too will hang in my new home, possibly in the kitchen area.

Thus do we reconstruct and carry forward our past into our future.

I am moving soon, as I said. I am keeping some objects, and letting go of many more. It's not possible to let go of most of the India Stuff, for either myself or my sister. Some of it we've already divided up; there are a few pieces left over that we haven't decided what to do with yet. Some are antiques, that were already old when my parents bought them when we lived in India; how can you possibly assess these for monetary value? They are priceless, and not only because of the memories we associate with them.

My own decorative style in my new home is obviously going to be heavily Asian in tone. At some point, when the dust settles, I have plans to incorporate more Japanese touches into my overall design. And a lot of bamboo. My home will be decorated in my own style, not my parents' style. Still, there is overlap. My Mom's taste and my own have many shared touchpoints, among them Asian art and Scandinavian Modern furniture. But it will be my own taste predominating.

Thus do we move forward, and make our own choices.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I have moved home so many times over the years and every time a bit more of the past manages to find its way into black plastic bags and out of the door. Two things that have survived are a couple of oil paintings I did as a teenager. They're a bit hard to describe but their really just technical drawings coloured in. They took me months to finish because of the laborious way in which I worked (with 00 brushes for a start) but my wife found them, framed tem and they now hang in our living room. And very nice they look too.

7:22 AM  

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