This painting encapsulates the raw existential trauma I sense my father endured when his life disintegrated. He was trapped in a coercive controlling marriage to my stepmother, twenty-nine years his junior, and was unable to prevent the ravages of her infidelity.
He had hypertension and suffered a stroke which coincided with her becoming pregnant by one of his young ex-students. My father was, according to her, upset and dejected on that Saturday before Easter in 1976 when a blood vessel in his skull burst and destroyed part of his brain. She attributed it to many things: the rejection of his application for a research grant, a book he was reading, an argument at work, being Jewish.
Unable to speak coherently and suffering from left sided paralysis, my father spent his final years deteriorating before dying at the age of sixty-eight. He occupied a downstairs room and his wife’s lover was present in his house during his incapacitation. She kept the affair secret for decades, disseminating false information about his circumstances.
When the affair become public knowledge, at the instigation of her family who controlled the narrative, newspapers reported that my father was infertile so he arranged with his wife to be impregnated by his student. This fake news not only invalidates my existence, but is also a common technique of victim-blaming used by narcissistic abusers. The priest who went to my father's aid during his stroke told me of the distress caused by the adultery.
This picture is also about gaslighting; which is when someone fabricates the personality traits of others and spreads lies to maliciously cause reputational damage. It is a serious form of mind-controlling abuse.
I was gaslighted by my stepmother from the age of fourteen when I went to live with my father and her shortly after their marriage. Coercive controlling abuse is insidious and my father, deceived by malicious false allegations about me, threw me out when I was sixteen. In an act of damaging control, my stepmother destroyed the relationship between my father and me by manipulating his mind with her own fabricated distorted fantasies.
Nearly eight years later I discovered through the grapevine that he had a stroke and I visited him. I encountered a broken wreck of a man. Accessing him was difficult and reconciliation between us never came - the damage done.
The face of the main figure in the picture is generic. I could not paint my father’s facial features as it would undermine his dignity – this picture acknowledges the truth behind his long-hidden suffering that was smoke screened. It's the ultimate locked-in nightmare of someone turning into a paralytic jelly and losing their independence. The couple in the doorway, locked in a faceless embrace, stand on stones, or are they trampling on the grey matter of a bleeding brain?
This picture is inspired by two masters of darkness - Munch and Bacon.
Oil on canvas 30"X40"