A Portrait Commission of Three Generations of Women
A few months ago, I wrote about a commission that went wrong. Today, I want to share a very contrasting story. When a commission works well, the work can create such a powerful and emotional connection that it can be overwhelming.
Two years ago, I was contacted by Michael in California who wanted to commission me a piece for his wife Meghan, a huge fan of my work. The painting was intended as a surprise gift for her birthday two years later — the guy really planned ahead! A year after this initial contact, I finally had more time to work on it. We agreed on a portrait of three people. One of Bam (Meghan’s grandmother), Cecile (her mother) and Meghan herself. Bam is a nickname. It was given by Meghan as a child and comes from her incapacity then to pronounce “Gram” for Gramma. The name stuck.
I understood that Bam had to be the central figure here. First, she’s 95 years old now, which is an accomplishment in itself. But also, this woman is very curious and informed and has lots of stories to tell about her travels and her relatives. She lived a life rich in adventure and continues to stay in touch with people she likes by writing emails every day.
I felt like my painting had to be a tribute to Bam and attempt to show the transmission of her spirit through the generations of her daughter and granddaughter.
It wasn’t an easy task. How do you picture something so intangible?
Michael sent me a lot of photos and I really loved one where Bam is leading the way and staring to the right outside the frame with Cecile on the left. I learned that this photo had been taken at Meghan’s wedding and that Bam was looking at her at that moment. It made perfect sense. In my painting, I added Meghan in between the two women. I painted her in a softer style, without impasto, to accentuate her dream-like quality and to set her in a different space — almost an imaginary one — a bit like the bather in the background of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe. It’s a bit as if Meghan is Bam and Cecile’s shared dream made reality.
Once the work was completed in the Spring of 2020, I shipped it to one of Michael’s friends in California so that Meghan wouldn’t see it before her special day.
Michael sent me pictures from his friend’s garage where he unpacked it to check it out. He also covered the wood crate of the painting with paint to hide my address and preserve the surprise. When her birthday came, Meghan had to unscrew all the 30 screws of the mysterious crate.
They sent me a video of her unpacking it and realizing what it was. Her emotion was so intense! Surprise, joy, love, all combined in a climactic gift. To be able to see her crying on video and to know I was an essential part of this was so touching for me.
I watched it five times that evening and cried each time. Whenever I’ll feel down about something in the future, I’ll just watch it again to see this beautiful and radiant woman I never met moved to tears and thanking me for my art.
Since the reception of the work, I exchanged several emails with Bam. I’m proud to be among the collection of friends she writes to. She’s one hellova woman! Life is so wonderful.
I wish you all to be loved like Michael loves Meghan. If heaven exists on this earth, I’m pretty sure it’s close to their home in La Jolla.
P.S. - For commission inquiries, please contact me.