Campfire School


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
William Faulkner

Encaustic, on art board, 8 x 10 inches unframed, 2016 – Commissioned

Framing completed by the Patron. Below is the final frame before it’s presentation.

Campfire School in it's final frame

Campfire School Event
The painting was presented at the beautiful Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN (Left: tables set for the event with the painting on the back table. Right: view of Nashville from the event area.)

grandson detail

grandfather detail

“Campfire School – Family Heritage” a narrative

From times unknown, the handing down of values, traditions, and heritage has taken place at intimate moments, across generations, within the family. This transmission is vital to the continuance of a family’s culture. In the Campfire School, we see an impromptu teaching moment around a campfire between two generations of a family. Traditionally, musicians have learned their craft from older family members and here we see a grandfather, who has already left his mark in life, and his grandson, a young boy preparing for his inevitable entry onto the world stage.

The current, leader generation is conspicuous by its absence. The grandfather, once the active family head, has stepped aside and has now earned the right and responsibility to take up two valued and key roles, advisor to his son, and, pictured here, model and teacher to his grandson, arguably his most important role. Grandfather is formal, carefully dressed, confident, bordering on stern but with a soft hint of gentleness in his eyes. He wears the clothes of another time. He models the ideal behavior for his grandson. Grandson is relaxed, slouched forward on a wobbly stool, and carelessly dressed in grass-stained overalls. Still in childhood, yes, but showing an intense interest and admiration for his grandfather and what he has to teach. It’s important to note that the two couldn’t be more different but their fiddles, representing the parts they have played/will play in life, are the same.

The grandfather is heavily shadowed, his gaze is beyond. He is passing off the stage. His coat, worn out of long custom and for warmth against the dying of the light, is reminiscent of the flying up of embers from a campfire as they rise and are lost to view on a late summer evening. The grandson is brightly lighted. Wrapped within the strong warmth of his strength and potential, he needs no coat or shirt. His practiced customs are in front of him. He has not stepped onto the stage yet and so has not come to the place of combustion yet. His heat must be carefully tended first. That is the grandfather’s job.

I’ve mentioned the grandfather’s gaze. Now look at the grandson’s. His right eye and brow show intensity, strong interest, and careful study. “How does grandfather do what he does? How is that accomplished?” The boy’s left eye and brow are different. Quite simply they show a strong sense of longing, a beautiful and painful sadness. They say, “How could I ever achieve that?” and more poignantly, “One day this, and he, will be but a memory, and I will long to once more sit here at his feet.” To see these more clearly, cover one half of the boy’s face with your hand, then the other. It’ll make more sense that way. When viewed together the boy’s right eye intensifies the left and the left softens the right.

This painting has a strongly religious undertone. The grandfather has a God/Christ-like visage. He stares into worlds unseen. The brim of his battered hat is a halo. The background is solid black but I painted it one thin stroke at a time, the focal point of every stroke is the man’s eye. Because the medium is beeswax, the strokes have texture and reflect the light. In a certain light, the background is solid black. In another, somewhat pictured here, beams of light, wisdom, blessings emanate from him and wash over the boy. If you hold the painting in your hand beneath a single light source you can make the beams shimmer up and down the painting but because the people are painted differently the beams roll down and around them. The boy is literally sitting at his grandfather’s feet, the place of a disciple. One further note here. The man is also Zeus-like. His right hand, pictured above the bend in his left arm, is showing a light source produced from within his clenched fist as he produces a thunderbolt, the bow. His forehead is brightly lighted, presaging the birth of Athena Parthenogenesis, goddess of transmitted wisdom.

I have two Michelangelo references here. Grandfather’s hands are active and powered while grandson’s hands are limp and passive, a nod to the hands in the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Also the boy’s right hand, though passive, is slightly oversized much as David’s right hand in the eponymous statue in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.

Last comment. Grandfather and grandson, so different but, in the juxtaposition of the composition, their left hands are just touching and so are their bows. They are one family united. The once and future generations.

Christopher Green
27 September 2016