I originally wrote this post in October 2012, just after my grandfather died. It feels fitting to publish it today, his 100th birthday.
My grandfather died this week, slipped away in his sleep, three months short of his hundredth birthday. Sifting through the memories, hearing his rich voice, feeling the weathered hands, the one part I keep coming back to is my grandfather's art.
I've always known him as an artist. As a child my standard answer to the when-you-grow-up question alternated between graphic designer, like my mom, and artist, like her father. I remember him taking five-year-old me for a walk to the park to draw the landscape. I remember rummaging through his studio, holding worn pencils in my hand, kneading putty erasers. I remember the charcoal sketches in his portfolio file. I remember the painting of my grandmother's battle with cancer.
Last night I remembered a gift he gave me when I was a child — a sketchbook. The first page contains a self-portrait, with a message, ‘keep drawing!’. He filled the next few pages with simple but masterful landscape studies, and left the rest of the book blank, for me to fill. I attempted a self-portrait of my own and, disappointed with the result, abandoned and forgot about the sketchbook.
Six years ago, on a visit to my grandfather, he offered my wife and me a few paintings to bring back home. He had long lost his eyesight to the vagaries of old age, but as we browsed through dozens of pieces and described them to him, he told us the story behind each one. He couldn't see them, but he had all the paintings in plain sight before his mind's eye. Last year, on another visit to his apartment in Ramat Gan, we couldn't help but pick out a few more pieces, though we don't have the wall space to hang all of the previous lot.
I knew it then, in a distant, abstract way. But now I really know what his art means to me. Growing up in a different country, our time together compressed and spaced months or years apart, I missed out on the details. I knew what kind of music my grandfather listened to, but not which pieces he loved. I knew he enjoyed pungent, foreign cheeses, but not which ones or how he liked to age them. I could tell what mood he was in, but I never learnt exactly how to make him laugh.
There's something of that in my grandfather's art. Though memories might blur and fade, there'll always be a little bit of his soul on each canvas. As long as my grandfather's paintings hang on my walls I'll have him nearby. And as I look through those first few pages of the sketchbook I abandoned 20 years ago, I'm reminded there's no better way for me to keep him with me than to take his advice and keep drawing.
Since writing this post three months ago, I've thought a lot about the tangible legacy my grandfather left. That evidence will outlast any memories. I've since made an effort to spend more time drawing and painting, apart from what I do in projects for clients. Below are some of the fruits of those labours.