14 March 2012
Poor People I Have Known and Loved
I like the mind, and much of my artwork is idea-driven, but I need a good amount heart energy, too, to connect me with the work. So I decided that in order to do these next prints, which examine cliches that use the same imagery for both wealth and poverty, I needed to find an emotional point of entry. And there's nothing like family to pluck the heart strings.
My father, Harry Bissett, came from an impoverished family living in a paper mill town in northern New Hampshire. He was born in 1924, the 9th of 10 children. I remember he used to tell me stories of picking rags or blueberries to earn a little money, and of getting an orange once a year in his Christmas stocking. He barely made it through school (his teachers thought he might have been a little "retarded"), and he was an accident-prone child -- he fell out of a tree and shattered his arm, stepped on a nest of yellow jackets and received hundreds of stings, stepped in a pan of hot grease and scalded his foot. When he joined the army in 1942 and was shipped to North Africa and Europe for WWII, his mother sold all his belongings because she was sure he'd never make it back.
He did make it back, and he never spoke badly of his time in the army. The army gave him his first pair of glasses, which cured his low IQ score as well as his proclivity for accidents. And the army gave him a college education. He became a social worker because he wanted to give back some of what he had received.
My father ended up working with at-risk youth for the state of New York and he used to travel around the state from time to time. I still have the letters he wrote to me from his business trips while I was in college. I scanned a couple of pages of his handwriting and recombined the letters to form the words I'll be using to illustrate the cliches of poverty. My dad died in 2000, but he's very present to me this week as I manipulate his handwriting for these prints.