This piece was painted over a 3 month period in 1970. I had just turned 25, was married and teaching art at Haydock Junior High in Oxnard, California. Our dad had passed away at 43 years of age. Mom was about 40, my Brother Ray was 14, and I was 9.
Dad's death at such a young age was a major shock. Our Dad had 4 brothers and 5 sisters, and there were 7 children on our mother's side of the family. This family including spouses and children easily closed in on 50 or more relatives who would gather for major holidays at each other's homes, and many times at our home. After years of joyous family gatherings, it all seemed to end, as though a giant meat cleaver came down and severed one part of our life from another. In later years, we did visit with the family but not like before, and very few things were said about our dad after his death. Speaking only for myself, there was no counseling, and we didn't discuss it. It was as though our dad didn't even exist. My brother and I still talk about this today, not every time, but most every time we meet.
At 25, I decided I would take this painful experience and try doing a painting to remember our dad and create something that said he did exist. I came across a photo of our dad, sitting on the front porch, legs crossed, smoking a cigarette and seeming very content. At this moment, the house is empty, and we hadn't moved in yet. In front is a little hill that slopes down to the road. I am sure that our mother took the photo and stood at the base of the hill.
The style of painting is very deliberate and controlled. I painted each brick, each blade of grass one by one. This approach, forced me to take my time and savor the experience as long as I could. Each day for 3 months, I would come to the canvas and visit with dad, cherishing every memory I could think of. In the early stages of the painting I had layered in the hair and shadows of his face and intended to detail his features later. However, when the background was complete, the entire painting became his portrait, and I was satisfied to leave it as it was. The low angle of the photograph turned out to be so right, as it reflected not my mom's photographic angle, but my own view as a little boy looking up to his dad.
I never had the chance to know him when I grew to manhood, so I can only hold onto him as a little boy. In the distant sky white clouds waft through the sky contrasted against the hard shapes of the house, ground and life. So, here's to you dad, William Vance Olszewski Born: March 23, 1911 (Glassmere, PA), Died January 15, 1955 (Natrona Heights, PA).
Years later I was doing a show back east and my dad's sister, Jane, came to visit. In the slide show I had the painting "Portrait of My Dad." By then she was near the age of 70, and I drummed up the courage to ask Aunt Jane why hardly anyone every spoke of him. She paused and could hardly speak, and then gathering herself, she firmly said "We loved your dad so much, that it was just too painful to bring it up in discussion." I was satisfied with the answer to know how much he was loved and I never asked anyone from the family about it again.
Dad, I remember you with this painting and keep your name "Olszewski" as hard as it is for everyone to pronounce, out here for a long time to come. Olszewski "Ol-shes-ski."