It took me over 3 years to complete this series. A series of watercolor portraits that express what I think is the hope of our future, the ability to see with hyper-vigilance. This universal power of observation has enabled our very survival, in every imaginable set of circumstances.
It started out simply enough when a friend gave me a photograph of a child that matched a haunting image I had in my minds eye. I felt compelled to paint that child and it felt almost as if it painted itself. Then I discovered another photograph, which, feature-to-feature was quite different from the first, but the child’s expression was virtually identical to the one worn by the first. I then began searching for photos of children with that same expression. While the faces were different and each unique, the expression they wore was always the same. It was one of hyper-vigilance, a singular look of watchfulness.
I finished painting 3 of these children, and electronically sent the images to a close artist friend, who called and said, “Wow, keep going, it’s as if you are articulating with paintings, that wacky childhood of yours”.
My friend recognized what I had not. Over the years, my friend had kindly listened to the many stories of how I had survived a childhood of neglect and abuse. As only great friends can do for each other we turned the tragedies into comedies, and this with a whole gaggle of therapists and loving children, grandchildren and husband has helped me to overcome the effects of such a childhood. She knew as a child I had learned to adapt to an unsafe and unpredictable environment by becoming hyper-vigilant.
This expression is found on children all over the world. Sadly, the only power such children have to protect themselves is vigilance. It is universal. Most of us have seen this expression on the faces of children in communities and families torn apart by war, oppression, exploitation, poverty and disease. It is the expression of survival. Don’t confuse it with hopelessness. Quite the contrary, it is the human spirit coming through. The child’s expression seems to be saying, “I don’t know what’s coming next but if I keep my eyes on the trouble, maybe I can figure out how to take care of myself.
In these paintings, I’ve tried to convey how in one child the look is almost: pleading, in another the look is challenging, judging, or just plain watching. The hyper-vigilance I’ve tried to convey in this series of paintings is one that kept me going for years as I child when I could not protect myself nor affect any changes. Today it speaks to me of the life force in each of us; the survival instinct.
My hope is that perhaps by knowing this look, and reminding us that children all over the world are indeed watching and learning from us, we may readjust just a little. Perhaps be a little kinder – a little more generous to children not our own – a little more accepting of differences. We may be unable to radically change the world but we can look at ourselves through the eyes of all children and perhaps, think of a thing or two to do that will make it just a bit better for all children. Perhaps we can help the next generation grow into more fully realized human beings earlier in their lives.