I’m certain this wasn’t my first art experience. There must have been paint and glue and crayons and chalk way before I was introduced to the concept of Picasso and the abstract form of face and body. However, there was a feeling of freedom to first know of this man, a confident man, a famous man, who painted faces using triangles, with a count of eyes and noses that did not match up with those I’d seen everywhere else. Two noses? Square eyes with dashed eyelashes? It all made me so very happy. I set to drawing a Picassoesque portrait, daring to add an angular nose to the side of a head. One green eye there, another bigger and bulbous eye in the corner, a tiny square of soul window off-set from those.
All the features of the face were still flesh colored, er, ‘peach’ colored – because when I grew up our tender children’s sensibilities were not confronted with the word ‘flesh’ or ‘skin’ in our crayola boxes. There were other colors of ‘flesh’ besides that pinking pale orange anyway, right?
Anyway, proud of my first Picasso portrait, modeled after my mother, with rounds of red for her rouged cheeks, I took my torn out, lined, notebook paper to show my muse.
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” My mother said. Of course she said that. That’s what is said to a child during their one-moment exhibition.“It is very different than the other ones you’ve done. I like it that you are exploring!”
“Mom,” I remember saying impatiently. “It’s like Picasso! The artist, Picasso. You know?”
I don’t know what my mom thought of this. I do know that I am a mother now. I’m an artist and a mother. If my child was just now sharing his discovery of Picasso, I’d be rightly pleased. I hope she was. She encouraged me. She pointed out the beauty of the eyelashes I’d put on my emerald green eye.
She complimented me on my effort and time moved us on to dinner time and then bed time, with a few other impromptu exhibits of my work to my siblings and father, and mini-lectures about this famous man named Picasso who put noses on in the wrong places, but it wasn’t wrong at all because he meant to do it exactly that way.
Sometime memories are lasting because they come in a pair. The memory of the Picasso portrait might have gone the way of the actual physical object (fully realized in its purpose and then quietly down the memory hole, the rubbish bin, the garbage bag). However, I was not done in my explorations.
Sitting in the coolness of my mother’s bedroom, another palette, even more full than my crayon box, lay before me. The cheap expanse of the 80 colored makeup set, with eye shadow for days, gifted by my grandmother to her daughter-in-law, lay splayed open before me. Barely touched, the pristine squares of blue and green grey and silver were sidled with long and elegant brushes. Blush brushes, shadow applicators, and a waxy black eye liner pencil lay ready for use on some naked, fresh face. My face.
I’d set the make-up kit, which covered a full 2 by 1 feet, on the shaggy brown carpet. The eyes had it. I didn’t have the correct number – just two. So, I grabbed the pencil and corrected the bland error. Positioned in a cyclops style, I put my third eye right in the middle of my forehead. An almond shaped eye just above the bush of my eyebrows. One uneven oval and another semi-round iris later, I was ready for color. Green? Blue? A pink eye? I went for purple. I’d heard a boy say that violet eyes meant that a girl was magic.
I took the eye shadow brush, so soft and wispy on my forehead, and brushed on the magic violet of my third eye. Next came a nose on the cheek, which was closer to a triangle, in true Picasso form, although the nostrils on this fake nose were tiny.
On the other cheek – I decided I needed a second mouth – with a toothy smile. Again I took to the wax pencil to draw an uneven, Joker, grin on the side of my face. This one needed a set of ruby lips, of course. The row of mini-sized lipsticks were ready for me. Pale pinks to brazen reds. I smeared one color for the top lip I’d drawn and another for the bottom, larger, pouting Picasso lip.
After these applications, I looked at my Picasso makeup portrait. I wasn’t happy with the affect. The paper was forgiving, the contours of my face were not. I began to dabble in colors. Paint my own lips with green. Brush over my own, God-given, eyelids with various shades. I filled in the nose on my cheek with the concealer wand. Used the brightest red on my own lips, kissing the mirror, and enjoying the silhouette of my kiss on the glassy surface.
The make-up kit was as much a mess as my face. Powders dusted the floor around it. Dented lipsticks were scattered atop the patchwork pattern of eye-shadows. I was just looking at my mess when I heard the door open. I jumped up and ran outside to see my mother.
There was a moment of concerned shock at first until she realized it wasn’t an allergic reaction.
“Look, Mom!” I said, a newfound pride at the mess of myself.
“I see that. I see you did something. Is that from my make-up kit?”
“It is! Can you guess? Can you guess what it is?”
It took a moment. She looked perplexed, like she was worried to see what the aftermath of this make-up session looked like on her bedroom floor. Then, she smiled in recognition.
“Picasso?” She asked, with a smile.
“Picasso!” I yelled.