Vulnerabilty

Watercolor by Hendrik Grise

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.

Susan Sontag

Hendrik Grise was teaching commercial art classes at a small college in California when I first met him. During the heyday of fashion illustration he had worked for many of the large, luxury, department stores. Now, he painted nudes and abstract images. Exhibiting and selling his work didn’t appear to interest him. His motivation seemed to be pleasing his own desire to create. I remember him mentioning  an exhibit he did with author and watercolor artist, Henry Miller. I could see a kinship he might have with Miller. I believe it was one of his only exhibits.

I took a couple of his classes when I was in my late twenties, shortly before he retired.  By that time, he had been teaching at the college for 30 years, as well as working on his own painting. He asked me to model during one of the classes. Although, Professor Hendrik took some artistic license in his interpretation the reality of the scene was fairly tame. At the end of the class I asked him to sign the work and give it to me. He told me it wasn’t something he often did, but he agreed. 

The painting has been above the fireplace, in our living room for many years. Seeing his work on a couple of websites, recently, caused me to think of him.  It took the hindsight of age and experience to  look at his work and see the vulnerability it portrayed. Susan Sontag’s quote about photography also applies to paintings, I believe. Sitting for a portrait gives the artist an inordinate amount of power in that moment.

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