I didn’t speak of such things when I was little. I suppose I didn’t have the words, nor the audience. But I felt it — this sensation of walking into a painting. Whenever I made my way up the three entry stairs into my grandma’s kitchen, the first thing I saw was the man leaning his head on folded hands over a simple dinner. Grace. I knew many had the replica of this painting. It was in fact extremely popular. But what they didn’t have was this kitchen. The coats hanging on pegs. The table with unsteady legs. The tractor seat made into a chair that rested beneath the long corded wall telephone. The dishes in the sink. The pots on the stove. The apple trees waving behind the windows. The tied rugs on the floor, made by my grandmother’s hands. How magical, I thought, to step inside her “painting.” To really see her. To know her. I took off my grass stained shoes and placed them by the door, as not to disturb the canvas.
It wasn’t until college that I was exposed to the technique of a painting with a painting. I smiled as the professor talked about the technique that began to show up regularly during the Italian Renaissance. These images of people in their homes, with paintings on the wall. Telling the stories of the lives inside the painting. I smiled. Maybe I hadn’t learned it, but I had already lived it.
Recently I painted the woman reading in front of her painted canvas. Finished, she has taken it off from the easel that rests behind her, and she immerses herself into the words. Without resembling my face, this is indeed a self portrait. I see this image every morning at the breakfast table. And each meal that follows. It calms my heart with unspoken magic.
I sat at the kitchen table having a cup of tea with my brother-in-law. He asked what I was painting now. I showed him this woman. “Oh, a painting in a painting,” he said. Just like that, he stepped inside my story, and I was seen, I was home. I think this is the grace within which we all want to live.