A Native American George Washington
I invited Christine, the subject of this portrait, to participate in Apple Pie when I discovered that she is Cree and Cowlitz Indian. I explained to her that most of the subjects in the series are immigrants and the children of immigrants, but that I needed two other types of Americans to round out my series about the American experience. I needed someone whose ancestors had not chosen to come here and someone whose family had been in the Americas since well before the Vikings or Columbus discovered the continent. She agreed to represent the Native American aspect of the American experience in Apple Pie.
When I asked Christine if she would allow me to combine her likeness with George Washington’s, I knew I was asking a lot of a near stranger. As Christine herself put it, I was asking her to “inhabit the enemy.” Despite her reservations, she understood what the juxtaposition would mean and agreed.
Originally, I was drawn to this expression. My work as a whole tends to be playful and this look is more in keeping with my style, but I decided against it for reasons that now seem obvious. It simply does not convey the proper feeling for a painting questioning who the real first American is.
I wanted to include the seasonal cycle of the cherry tree in the painting as a reference to the myth that Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree. This composition looked good enough in black and white…
...but when I translated it into color for this painting, the background overwhelmed the figure. In this image, I have already painted over all the busy-ness in the background. The portrait remained in this state for eight months while I sorted out what I wanted to do with it.
Last winter, I happened to pick up Jay Griffiths’ book A Sideways Look At Time. It made me realize that I couldn’t adequately represent the cycle of the seasons on a rectangular canvas. I needed a circular frame.
I hunted high and low for a tondo, and finally found this fairly substantial one (35 inches in diameter).
Certain major issues were resolved by this change, but the portrait remained a challenge. I rely a good deal on what I call signifiers to make a likeness. I pick out particularly telling elements of a person and base the portrait around them. In Christine’s case, I had to do without the signifier of her hair since I was replacing it with Washington’s powdered pony tail.
Adding the cherry branches into the composition.
Beginning to soften and detail everything.
Realizing that the cherry branches will not work that way.
Finally getting the cylce right…!
The home stretch.