Being Twelve

August 12, 2021

"School Picture Day Wear Something Pretty" (alternate title: "Ghosting Myself Age 12"), mixed media on canvas, 2021, 36” x 36”

Show of hands, please: Who would travel back in time to their adolescent years if they could? Anyone? 


Without a doubt, I would not. Yet in a way, I did recently revisit that time of my life via a self-portrait I painted from a school picture, circa 6th grade. In it I’m sporting a decidedly unhip, unintentionally asymmetrical hairstyle and a cacophonously patterned shirt that, while possibly minimally stylish at the time, now looks like I dragged granny’s homemade quilt off a bed and draped it around my shoulders before smiling awkwardly into a camera.

Along with mild discomfort from staring at the photo as I painted, the era it represents flooded my mind and my canvas with memories. Some of them pleasant. Many of them sad and painful to process still all these years later. I believe most adults, confronted with images and memories of their pre- and early-teen years, would have similar shuddering experiences.

Some of the memories the photo resurrected for me were of bullying I endured in middle school and the internal conflict wracking my world during that unpleasant and clunky journey out of boyhood.

Thus, what I’d planned to be a fairly straightforward (if wildly patterned) portrait soon became something more layered and complex. I found myself painting a second version of me on the same canvas, this one in faded black-and-white and drifting off the edge. Ultimately, it's the story of a kid who could go quickly from comfortable, colorful and happy-go-lucky, to wanting nothing more than to disappear—often multiple times in the same day.

I’m calling the painting both “School Picture Day Wear Something Pretty” and “Ghosting Myself Age 12”—reflecting the conflicting emotions it evokes. It was one of the pieces in my final critique during the recently completed first semester of my MFA pursuit at Maine College of Art. A classmate remarked that it suggests a 1970’s horror movie. Exactly, I said to myself, a horror movie called ‘Being 12!’

I’ve often been told that being an artist requires dredging your psyche for inspiration. In fact, I’ve challenged myself to convey more personal stories through my art as I continue down the grad school path. But I’ll try to limit as much as possible the tragic haircuts and enormous shirt collars.