Blog / 2022 / Archaeologist of Play

April 5, 2022

two men and a boy playing soldiers art by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Playing Soldiers
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
7 x 11 inches

My father only speaks English and my mother’s parents only spoke French, so whenever my Papa spent time with his in-laws there were many moments like this one, where adults engaged in play in order to connect without language. Here, my Papa on your left, my brother at center, and my grandfather on the right are each wearing a special belt that my father bought on one of his adventures across the world, and they’re playing soldiers.

All grownups goof around like this to some degree, but, when multiple cultures are involved, the stakes are higher. Unlike when there’s a shared language, the play doesn’t just facilitate conversation: it’s the whole point.

original photo and edited photo
original photo by Annie Seemel, with edit by Gwenn Seemel

And, in some ways, I feel like my painting is more of the same. It’s me engaging in play with my dad—saying yes to making art from this photo—because we don’t speak the same language anymore.

As I worked, I had to adjust the original photo as shown above. A camera lens can exaggerate perspective in odd ways, like by making my Papy much smaller than my Papa even though they were close to the same height IRL. The result of my editing efforts makes both men look too tall for the doorway, but the painting still makes more sense this way.

painting process GIF
painting process

Maybe no child ever feels like they fully understand their parents, but, with my father, the disconnect has been pried wider over the years by Fox News. It’s hard for us to have any kind of conversation without the topic butting up against some right-wing talking point that Papa insists on sharing.

My dad is 97 now, and his mind isn’t as clear as it used to be. Aging is never easy, but it’s especially hard to watch loved ones get older under capitalism, a system that adds financial stress to what’s already an emotionally and physically taxing period in a person’s life.

my dad, artwork by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Playing Soldiers

In times like this, it’s reassuring to be able to look back at the artifacts of play, like this photo and the painting it became. In fact, in some ways, I feel like I’ve turned into an archaeologist, possessed by the search for play, digging through photo albums and diaries, dusting off gifts my father brought back from his travels, anything to try to understand him better.

The whole thing has made me mindful of the evidence of play I leave behind in my everyday. It makes me want to play more.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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