August 2nd, 2013 § 2 Comments

It was a dreary Saturday afternoon. My father sat slouched, cross legged on the floor, a “wife beater” hanging from his narrow shoulders, a burning cigarette pinched between his fingers when a Geisha floated by him through our apartment’s little living room. “What’s that?” My brother who was holding the art work explained that it would be his submission for the Lloyd’s Bank Art Contest. My brother, the prized pupil of Commonwealth Elementary’s gypsy-like Jewess art teacher, Miss Itskovich was holding a potential winner: A finely detailed replica of a Meiji Period Japanese Geisha painting done in pencil and marker. The exceptional piece garnered a less than enthusiastic reaction from our father.

To say that Koreans are not fond of Japanese is putting it mildly. Japan spent a good deal of the first half of the 1900s waging war all over Asia. In doing so, they didn’t make many friends. The Annexation of Korea done in extreme malice was a painful, humiliating sore on the national psych. The kind of stuff that festers for generations. Our father saw it first hand.

“Why do you want to paint that?” We knew exactly what he meant. “Here, let me show you.” The silent, lifeless man was all of sudden up on his feet, ripping down calendars with traditional Korean watercolors. Demanding pencil. Paint. Paper. The newspaper he was reading was laid on the beige carpet. In a matter of a couple hours, he masterfully taught my brother how to paint in watercolor. It was my brother’s first painting lesson. To see and paint a piece as a whole.

I sat off to the side in stupefied wonder, not moving so as not to awaken our father from this almost hypnotic episode. He was alive, alert. And he cared. Cared about his history, his people. He cared about art, beauty. He cared about my brother – my brother’s connection, my brother’s art.

As my brother adeptly applied the lessons learned, my father lit a cigarette. He intently watched as the painting flowered in the watercolor. “Yes! That’s it!” I got to think, he was satisfied.

As a fourth grader, my brother’s watercolor rendition of a traditional Korean painting won first prize in that contest. There was no doubt.

My brother, he still paints.

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