Over the past couple of months, I’ve been writing about the “Catcher in the Rye” custom oil painting I’ve been working on for Jeff, a client of mine. It’s called “Facing the Storm.” Alas, I have the completed pictures and story behind the art!
The Scene from the book…
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
How it relates personally…
Although I’ve given some explanation into the meaning of this painting, I’d like to reveal a bit more. When Jeff was a child, his father gave him this book. On the front cover, he wrote a note – “Jeff, I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.” “We” referred to his Dad’s girlfriend at the time. Jeff still has the book his Dad gave him; it’s actually the same one I read before starting this painting. Anyways, the book made a significant impression on Jeff, since the main character – Holden Caulfield – reminded him strongly of his Dad. Jeff’s parents divorced when he was young. His Dad, who was a drug addict, became increasingly absent from his life starting in high school. Several years later came a permanent absence – he committed suicide.
In his own words – Jeff describes his father’s last night
“I like to imagine that, on the night before he took his life, my father went to a seedy dive bar for his last hits. His sandy colored hair was unkempt and balding in places that only bald after years of mental anguish. His jacket was dirty and hanging loosely around frail bones, the kind of frailness that only comes from many injections of abuse. His blue eyes, though, were friendly. One side of his lips curled up into a strange but open smile. His face was shining, though it was probably the kind of brightness that comes from two lights in constant tension, one always threatening to overcome the other, each frustrated by the shadows they cause. Taking a stool, he saddled up to the bar and tried to explain himself in the words of my favorite song.
“Bartender, you see, the wine that’s drinking me, comes from the vine that strung Judas from the devil’s tree, its roots deep in the ground.”
Nodding sympathetically, the bartender asked him if he had any kids.
“Two sons,” he answered. “I was close with them when they were boys, but we began losing touch when they got to high school. Now they are in college, and I never speak with them.”
Slowly, the bartender nodded again.
At this point, this virtual stranger gave my dad some of the most honest words he had had in his life. “Your youngest son is getting ready to be a young professional in our nation’s capitol, one of the only cities in the world where he is free to become who he is meant to be. He will be wildly successful. Your oldest is getting ready for graduate school, reading and writing in ways that you could never have imagined. He will spend his career helping other people keep the wine from drinking them too badly. Sir, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have done a fine job.”
The next night, the darkest of his life, my father held a gray blade and wondered about the bartender’s words. How could it be that, after all the pain and struggle he caused himself and his family, he had done a fine job of raising his sons? Then some final truth dawned on him. Love is not good, simple, and pure. This does not mean that it is its opposite, because neither is love some demon that needs to be exorcised. Always and everywhere, love is both brilliantly optimistic and incomprehensibly execrable. Struggling like every parent does to put it together in just this way, my dad was able to perfectly raise his two children.
Now that my dad’s eyes are closed for good, I realize my own truth, that God did not do this to me. I am not so sure that God does anything at all. Instead, our doomed but bright star allows us to watch, on the clearest twilights, how it must always set. The best thing for us to do is let it go, especially on that one ultimate day when the sun cataclysmically vanishes into itself. Because even on that chilling day, somewhere in the seemingly infinite darkness, two lights will struggle to be seen as one. The first will flicker for understanding, and the other will gradually, painstakingly, start to beam for renewed hope.”
adding our custom touches to the interpretation…
Although Holden Caulfield’s vision of being the Catcher in the Rye is very descriptive, Jeff and I took that vision and added in a few more features that relate to his own story.
- Most prominently, his Dad took the place of Holden Caulfield on the cliff. Jeff gave me several photographs of his Dad, which I used to paint a figure resembling him on the cliff. In the painting, he’s catching and saving a child who is running off of the cliff.
- Down below in the valley, you’ll notice someone walking towards the storm. That figure represents Jeff himself, as Jeff’s Dad never was able to “catch” him.
- The changing skyskape, from bright and cheery to dark, stormy and dangerous, is also Jeff’s idea. You’ll notice that the darker side is the side by the cliff, where Jeff’s Dad is.
- I added the lush blue rivers that run through the mountains and valley until they abruptly come to an end at a split in the earth.