When I was about seventeen, I was looking for something to paint. It was probably school holidays, when I had hours to fill. I remember remarking to Mum that this photo of Grandpa Philbey (her father) was so beautifully taken. I declared that I would paint this portrait for my mum. Over two years later with intermittent progress, I finished it in time for Mother’s Day 2019.
In my life so far, there have been two ways I have known my Grandpa: 1) Other people telling me what he was like, and 2) Other people telling me how I am like him.
I have rolled my eyes at “Gosh don’t you look just like your mum!” countless times. And secretly loved every second of it. Because of these people I know that he was one of ten children. His face and arms were browned and weathered from years of farming but his body was ivory from the elbows up. He walked with a cane due to life-long health problems and he didn’t like to have his photo taken. He was kind and gentle and “got” the big picture. He used to say, “there’s only a week between a good and a bad haircut!” He was “a true gentleman through and through”.
Now, I have ways I can see for myself that we are connected. Sitting and studying his face for hours I see that his eyes and smile are just like my Mum’s. I wondered what he would think of me and what I’ve achieved? What would our living relationship be like? To see his face in this light I feel nostalgic for someone I have never met, and although he was loved and is remembered by many, I feel that no one else knows him or loves him quite in the way I do. His portrait has reinstated his presence in the Philbey family.
As children there is so much that we don’t get told because we’re too young to know or don’t think to ask. On a global scale we can use carbon dating and archaeology to know the history of the world. To know my history, I don’t think it gets any better than the age-old human pastime of storytelling, and paint.
Words and Art by