One year ago, almost to the day, a lovely man named Mark asked me to paint a portrait of his family for a family Christmas gift. My knee-jerk reaction propelled me to rattle off how I painted cities, not people while slowly shaking my head back and forth, quietly declining. He paused and began to describe his family with such animation. Eyes full of light, almost glassy. Wrapped in his energy, it would be the beginning of a nine month process which would bring stories of such joy, such love, and such sorrow and loss.
Portrait painting is hard. For real. It's just hard. As much as I told Mark that I was not a portrait painter, the dear man continued to reassure me that I was the right person to capture his family. To capture Chris.
This was the first time that I met Chris. You could feel the life and light and love inside Chris when you looked back at photos of him. I never knew Chris in real life, but the common thread through all of the stories I've heard about him from countless people who were blessed to know him say the same things - incredibly kind, full of light, life of the party, wonderful friend, son, brother. Chris passed away just about two years ago from a rare form of Leukemia, and Mark asked me to capture the last time the family was together in a photo.
Yes, Mark. Yes, of course I'll do this.
I gathered stories, I scoured Chris' Facebook page, and thought hard about how to plan out the painting.
Then I sat, choked, paralyzed, for months before starting the painting...fearful of not being able to do right for this family. Never, have I felt like I was in over my head more so than in the months leading up to creating this painting.
It's incredible how the universe puts in front of you exactly what you need when you need it most. While in London this past November, I stumbled upon an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery that still has me breathless. They gathered over 50 of Cezanne's portraits over the years and hung them intimately and chronologically. https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/cezanne-portraits/exhibition/
I left, giant & heavy catalog in hand, ready to create something special for the Fuga's.
I started the piece with photos, and other sentimental pieces that I gathered from Mark as the base of the painting.
Starting with Mark on the right, and leaving Chris for last.
And, here it is finished.
As an artist, it is a true gift to have someone put their belief in you to create a representation of such a special moment. Although I never knew Chris, I think of him often and hope for peace and healing in time for the Fuga family. A memorial fund has been set up in Chris' name. If you'd like to find out more info or to donate:
Christopher M. Fuga Memorial Foundation