For Fragonard and My Mother
Oil on canvas
This painting was inspired by thoughts of time, heredity, gender, information, the personal and the historic.
The image is of my mother, turning 80 this year, reading in a guest bed she retreats to when dogged by insomnia. This bedroom has looked exactly as it does in this painting since 1971. The mustard stripes and flowers filling the space speak both to the fevers I sweat in this very bed as a child as well as the cultural conflicts my mother weathered the same decade. Hanging above the bed is a print of The Reader by Jean-Honore Fragonard. In it a beautiful young girl, painted almost exactly 200 years before this bedroom was decorated, reflects with a book.
While some may consider Fragonard’s treatment of the subject flip or transparent what I see is a girl with a book. Complicated with ironic tension created by the relative youth and age of my subjects it is the painting’s subtext of collaboration between the women, a passing of intelligence and experience from one generation through the next that lingers. Death will come, in the book and in the bed but it is the circular nature of time that may suggest some comfort.