We have some serious generational trauma in the women in my family. I can trace it even as far back as my great great grandmother, who divorced her husband and took their two children with her, leaving the oppression of a brethren community in York, PA. She moved them down to Baltimore and started her own millenary shop. My Grandmom, and mom, and myself endured abuse, and the misogyny runs so deep.
My mother, who regularly revises history and paints herself as the victim, is the most misogynistic of them all. When my sibling came out to her as transgender, her response was “You can’t be a girl, I hate girls.”
We block out our childhood, my sibling and I. Determined to use my experience as an example of how not to raise my own children. I am a mother to two young boys, and a little girl who will turn two in just a couple months. I feel protective over all of them, of course, but especially our daughter. I was compelled to start this painting as a way to create some sort of protective talisman for her. The Supreme Court leak that Roe v Wade would effectively be overturned was just leaked, and fueled the need to start the composition. A friend of mine introduced me to the Heroical Devises of Claude Paradin, published in 1591.
The book contains remarkable engravings, each emblem having a specific meaning. A few that inspired me are “it is a crime to restrain her,” with the image of a two headed snake. And “brightness that cannot be harmed” a circle with a star in the center, rays of light beaming. Lastly “who could be against us?” with a snake biting a finger while being held over a flame. I started piecing together Paradin’s emblems with some portraits I took after being inspired by Colleen Barry’s monumental portraits of herself and her daughter. There’s a rawness and vulnerability in them, that I wanted to capture with my own little girl.
Spurred by the Supreme Court news, and my fascination with these emblems, I wasted no time in starting. The portrait was quite different from the usual commissioned work I do of people’s dogs and children, and it was exciting to work on a piece so raw and personal. It was on the easel drying when my mom visited one day. She burst out in uncomfortable laughter. “That’s hilarious!” she said. “Don’t you think that’s hilarious?” she repeated over again.
I couldn’t think of a more offensive reaction from her. I stuffed the painting in the closet for half a year before I felt brave enough to pull it out again. Why was I so surprised by my mom’s reaction? It should’ve been predictable. Through our childhood she had put my sibling and I in one unsafe situation after another. Of course she would uncomfortably laugh at a painting I made that was solely about a mother protecting her child. Reflecting on it, her reaction illustrates exactly why I felt the need to create this portrait.
Medium & Dimensions: Oil on gessoed wood panel; 16" x 12"
Alexis is co-owner of a painting restoration/fine art and jewelry business, in which she has the honor to give new life to many old paintings. The time she spends with each work is like having a conversation with the artist. She studies layer after layer of paint. Often hints of the underpainting are visible, sometimes the drawing that maps out the composition. Occasionally there are revisions the artist made, maybe moving a rooster into the foreground or decreasing the contour of someone’s face in a portrait. These paintings she restores and collects, and her family, are a never ending source of inspiration.