146. Pop Pop’s Art
Henri Rousseau was a French painter in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He had no formal training, and his painting style was very flat, with strange light and color. There was an argument, at the time, whether Rousseau was a brilliant, avant-garde surrealist, or just a talentless hack. Over time, the argument that he was a talented visionary has won out over its more mean-spirited cousin.
I think the same argument could be made about Pop Pop’s art.
When Pop Pop retired, he became a painter. After a life spent in retail and marketing, Pop Pop wanted to explore the world through color, line, and texture instead of through dollars and cents. And, really, who could blame him? Money is so monochromatic. It’s so stark. It has none of the vibrancy of, say, a bowl of fruit. So Pop Pop painted.
His first painting was from a picture he clipped out of a magazine. The picture was of a small cabin in the woods, surrounded by trees and a field of mushrooms. In Pop Pop’s interpretation, the mushrooms are as big as the cabin. Some in my family see this as a lack of skill. I see this as a brilliant artistic choice, adding a sense of surreality to an otherwise plain painting. I wish I had a picture of this painting to show you guys, but it’s my Grandma’s favorite, and on lock down above their mantle. I’ve called dibs on it when the grandparents die. It’s the only inheritance I want.
The first painting I got from Pop Pop is a still life. It was “based” on a Cezanne, which Pop Pop clipped out of a magazine and attached to the back with masking tape. I love this painting for many reasons. First, Pop Pop quickly diverts from Cezanne’s muted colors and light. Instead, Pop Pop paints a garish turquoise background, complemented by an equally garish yellow tea towel. Pop Pop’s colors truly pop. None of this subdued, impressionist bullshit. Second, I love the fruit. Sure, you can tell what it is, but it looks rotten. Perhaps this is a visionary statement on the state of the world today? On our own perceptions of quality and value? Finally, I love Pop Pop’s broad, irreverent brush strokes. Nothing says “Fuck you, artistic conventions!” like a broad, inexact brush.
This seriously might be my favorite painting in the world. I have it hanging in my living room, and get asked if I painted it every time I have anyone over. I always have to ‘fess up that, no, this visionary masterpiece was done by my grandfather, not me.
In recent years, Pop Pop’s vision has declined to the point where he’s had to stop painting. It breaks my heart. But he still loves to take people on a tour of his “gallery” in the garage. Grandma has his art displayed all over the house – to the tune of 15-20 pictures on display throughout their two bedroom house. Pop Pop, after 87 years of a supremely practical life, has become a legitimate painter. He has his art displayed in his house. He gives it away to the kids and grandkids, so that my parents, my dad’s sisters, my brother, and I all have some Pop Pop art in our homes. And I could not be more thrilled to display these surrealist masterpieces, with the added joy of saying, “Yeah, my Pop Pop did that.”
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