Family Portraits

My playful Family Portraits really are (originally at least) Sivak family photos! They are mixed media works on wood that include a collage of a family photograph with animal heads added. I work back into the images with acrylic paint and ink. I love my family, especially the old photos of them from the 50s and 60s, and I love animals, so the combination seemed perfect!

Learn more about the origins of these portraits.

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About Grandma and the Beginning of
the Portrait Series

Starka and GrandmaWhen my folks passed away in the mid-80s, one of the treasures I inherited was a box of the family slides, negatives and photos. I loved looking at them, and when I would run across them I enjoyed looking through them, but eventually they ended up buried in a back closet. I carried them around for thirty years, with every move I have made, and even though I rarely looked at them, I couldn’t bear to just get rid of them. Recently I purchased a slide scanner and decided to scan all the slides and photos and everything else that was in that box. Getting the box’s contents made digital really gave me an opportunity to take another, closer look at all the images. What I found wonderful was not only that this was my family but that these images really captured a moment in time, the era between the 20’s and early 60’s, which holds a particular magic for me.

I never knew my grandmother. Never knew any of my grandparents actually, and my parents rarely if ever spoke of the past. I think my grandmother’s name was Susan, but I am not sure. My sister Barbara remembers her, and she called her “Starka” which means “Grandmother” in Slovak. My grandfather died young at the age of 33, and Starka was left to raise three children on her own in a small village in Czechoslovakia. Tough times made for a tough woman, and when Starka eventually made her way to Pennsylvania with her two daughters, she retained that exterior toughness. Of course, I imagine she was a gracious, loving person underneath, but from this original photo of her, at least, it looks like she could get done what needed to be done.

One day in the studio I thought about making a collage with her image in it. Many times my process is stream of consciousness, and I was switching many shapes and images around Starka’s image when I ran across the image of the lamb. It seemed to fit, although I wasn’t sure why. I always think of these moments as accidents, and maybe they are, or maybe they are something else. I am just glad I have them. Knowing it felt right, but not knowing why, I used the lamb’s head for Starka. Turned out it was a perfect fit, because although Starka has that “tougher” body, the lamb reflects what I like to think was a softer person on the inside. I added the sunglasses, again because they just seemed to fit, and because it gave her a Cool Grandma look.

What has really been interesting to me is that many people seem to relate to my portrait of “Grandma” because they have had mothers or grandmothers or aunts like this strong, practical, no-nonsense-taking woman from the 40s.