|Artwork by Viestarts Aistars|
The tiny drawing, framed in a cheap brown frame and hung on the far outside wall of his basement studio, never fails to draw me toward it. Every time. Every time I go downstairs at my father’s house to peek in on his latest artwork, it reels me in like a fish. The little house with its weathered wood walls and red shingled roof. Or are they ceramic tiles? Whatever they might be, they are no longer.
I visited that little house on the Baltic Sea just a couple of months ago. I visit it most every time I travel to Latvia, where my father was born. The house belonged to my great-grandfather. Today, the walls of the little house called Tomdēli, near the village of Sārnate, are covered with pale yellow aluminum siding, and the barn, that red building behind the north end of the house, is nothing more than rubble, overgrown with weeds. Over the holidays, I hear my father telling my niece, Erika, his granddaughter, about Tomdēli and his carefree boyhood summers there. My grandfather kept cows, he said, and chickens, goats, pigs. Wonderful summers by the sea…
I stand in front of the drawing and lean in to see into the past. My father sketched it from memory after he was forced to leave his home as a teenage boy. It has hung on his studio wall ever since. World War II and the Soviet occupation of Latvia are now memories, too, and the teenage boy has become an 83-year-old elderly man, stooped, with a scuffling step, but still with pencil in hand.
I’d always rather envied my father his medium. He paints; I write. While every art form requires its creator to reveal his or her innermost self, I had often pondered how the art form I had chosen, creative writing, required me to get far more naked on that public stage than did his art. One sensed a mood when looking at his drawings, his paintings … but his secrets remain his. No matter how I write, however, even if my characters are little green men on Mars, they reveal my core sense of self. Every line of dialogue states my values. Every scene I choose to describe, from whatever perspective, recreates my inner geography. My hero tells the reader what I most admire and respect. My villain tells its flip side.
As I so often do, I sit down on my father’s wooden stool by the easel and pull a sketchbook from his bookshelf. I love paging through these old books. I always go for the oldest first.
I begin to realize … my father has shed some skins here, too. Perhaps I am not the only one standing alone on a public stage. My thoughts and dreams and values, my heartaches and disappointments, my soaring moments, my wandering line of thought may be easier to decipher … but I see that his are here, too.
I treasure these drawings as I treasure the artist who created them.
To view more artwork—sketches, oil and watercolor paintings—visit Viestarts Aistars on Facebook and on MySpace.