The feeling always strikes me in late August. It happens at the exact moment I realize summer is about to slip away. Right below the sadness a peaceful calm washes over me. The sun is still strong but the cool breeze carries a whisper of change, it's one of my favorite bitter sweet moments. No other time has this feeling been more memorable than on the sunny day when my mother and I are visiting my grandmother and two aunts at their seaside cottage. It's officially the last day of summer and also the last day of summer break. Tomorrow, I will be returning to high school to begin my junior year.
My mother Delores, grandmother Angela, and aunts Tilley and Mary sit in this order at the edge of the ocean. I let the sun strike my face turning my mind's eye on to bright swirls of color. I hear the ladies conversing. "I'm out of cigarettes," Tilley announces. "No you're not," my grandmother answers, "You have three packs in your pocketbook!" I hear my grandmother quietly whisper to my mother, "It's getting worse." My mother inquiring, "Why are you letting her smoke?" "It's only a matter of time, my grandmother murmurs and I want her to enjoy herself." The afternoon is passing by faster than I wish. I can feel the tightening of skin around my nose. Everyone begins talking about having enough sun for one day. Hats and cover-ups are passed around. Aunt Tilley notices my mother as she pulls a tube of lipstick and a small mirror from her bag. My mother gestures to her as if to ask, would you like some. My Aunt knowingly smiles and leans towards her to have a thin coat of reddish color applied to her pale lips, she inquires, "Do you remember when I was beautiful?" My mother answers, "Of course I do." "When I was your ager we called it war paint," my aunt referring to the lipstick. With her freshly painted lips, she smiles a younger woman's smile and with closed eyes turns to the sun.
I'm thinking of the resolve in my Aunts voice when asking my mother to recall her beauty, I believe it to imply that to be beautiful a woman must also be young. I was born when my mom was nineteen, so she has always looked like my older sister. Now, with her reaching the age of most mothers I can understand the reference to War Paint as I see her applying make-up with the same determination of a Native American preparing for a territory war. The percentage of restoration always seeming to fall short of her expectations.
I am almost the exact age my mother was that day at the beach. Over this passing of time I have come to realize how poignant that afternoon truly was. Not only because my aunt and grandmother are no longer with us but also I was given such a rare opportunity to witness that revealing exchange. This series, "War Paint" is in honor of those four woman and so many other who have been convinced that much of their self-worth is dependent on their "youthful beauty.' A concept greatly engrained in our psyche by a consumer obsessed, advertising driven culture. My objective with these portraits of maturing women is to approach them from a place of acceptance and celebration rather than from an idealized standard. I want to embrace the physical signs of aging that evolve along with emoltionaland spiritual maturity.