My grandmother gave me this prompt, after some protest. She wanted more specific instructions than “anything.” When I unfolded the paper with the word sculpture written on it, I had no idea what to do. Of course…my grandmother–innocuous, old, affectionate–would saddle me with a conundrum: something simultaneously concrete and abstract, which manages to be both an idea and an object.
I often think of my grandmother as somewhat absent. She is losing her memory, and it is easier sometimes to relate to questions repeated to the point of absurdity as the whimsy of a “crazy old lady” than to admit that entropy is stealing from me some one I have known all my life. This prompt is a reminder that the quick and clever lady who used to tickle me when I wasn’t looking and tease me when I was grumpy (“Better be careful…if you make that face you’re gonna get stuck that way!”) is still my grandmother, even if these days she mostly asks where my cousins are or what day of the week it is.
In the end, I chose to draw a sculpture that belongs to Gemmy, that she bought with my grandfather when they were a young and glamorous couple in the world of design, running a successful architecture firm and filling their house with strange and beautiful art objects. I have no idea who made this sculpture. It is cast bronze, and for most of my life I thought it was abstract, but I discovered today when I was looking at it more closely that it is actually an open-mouthed face seen from above. Still, I chose to draw it how I remember looking at it when I was little, staying overnight for an adventure with my worldly and exciting grandparents. It was mysterious and slightly monstrous, but friendly, a part of my family, as art has a tendency to become.