Dia de los Muertos, portrait of Susan Antonelli
I fell in love with San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, when I first visited here just one year ago. The day I returned after a month of walking throughout the cobble-stones streets with rose colored buildings, my Aunt Suzie picked me up from the airport with the stunning news that she’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died only five months later, at 61 years old.
When someone so close dies, your own mortality stares you in the face. I had already run back for short weekends trip to my haven in Mexico twice to escape a job that I didn’t believe in anymore and the stress of keeping things together while one of the most important people in the world to me began to disappear in front of my eyes.
Suzie’s death reminded me to live, on a level of exhilaration I hadn’t allowed myself in my previous, formulaic life ((job+time+misery=retirement)>joy/passion). Suzie had a life of adventure, at one point selling all of her possessions in her 30s to move to Nice, France with her best friend, dressing up to crash weddings and basking on the French Riviera.
Now that I’m here, I love that the city itself calls upon me to celebrate those who have died, to steep in their memory and fiesta in the name of their life. And when I got the commission for this portrait, I finished in a record 14 hours before my plane took off for a quick week in NYC, feeling her presence with me the whole time.
This painting has been different than anything I’ve ever worked on before. I all too easily get mired in perfectionism, but the rush on this portrait, and its importance to me, came together in a work that both makes me proud and makes me question my previous studio strategy. I’m looking forward to putting the rush on myself with some painting assignments I’ll put a due date on. Looks like Suzie still has a lot to teach me.
More on Dia de los Muertes SMA soon