Through the 1980s, my mom painted portraits of Indian stereotypes. Most of the time she copied their faces from reproductions, aiming for expressive features, wisdom behind the eyes, capturing a somber stereotypical dignity in an Indian’s face, like that featured in the famous Keep America Beautiful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Suu84khNGY commercial of the seventies: There was heartbreak in an Indian’s face, because he had been wronged. Maybe she identified with that. The death of my older brother in1980 to a traffic accident left in her, by all measures, completely devastated, feeling struck down by the world.
She had spent so much of her artistry painting sameness in the posed graduation portraits that perhaps she needed an outlet where expression, emotion, a lived look, or at least something besides the same flesh tone, ruled her world. The rut of smiling high school graduates might have strangled something in her; hence, Indians became an outlet for expressing sadness with color, grief within a spiritual compendium.