The Things He Left
Call it the “treasure complex,” the misguided but rather darling notion that the sentimentalized objects many of us hold onto for years (okay, decades) have a marketplace, a ka-ching value. That if the world cares half as much as we do about them, we or our heirs have got a winning ticket in our hands or at least latte money. That single, delicate teacup my grandmother gave me, telling me that it was a gift to her from my brother — how could that not be worth an "Antiques Roadshow" windfall? It’s easy to forget that it is the provenance itself — from Kevin to Noveline — that is priceless.
I spent an afternoon not long ago searching online for an artist. His or her signature appears at the bottom right corner of two small framed paintings I possess through no fault of my own. P. Meza? C. Meza? The flourish over the “M” makes it tricky to parse. But the paintings are so sweet, they must be worth a modest fortune.
The 10x8 acrylic paintings are of a young boy. The same boy, or so it appears, I see only his profile. His hair — more pelt than locks — is black and he or a parent or the painter are fond of blue patterned pjs. In one painting, he sits on a toilet reading. A broadsheet newspaper is propped on his lap opened to the funnies. His pajama bottoms are bunched at his feet. In the other, he stands at a toilet — the bathroom is similar but not identical. Lowered pj bottoms reveal a 3/4 moon of hiney and the boy is leaning ever so slightly forward, staring at a stream of piss.
There’s a warmth I feel looking at these paintings, temporarily relocated to my office from the guest bathroom. They don’t seem at all prurient, even amidst Church scandal headlines and more than 20 seasons of Det. Olivia Benson et al increasingly dulling our outrage even as they educate us on the wreckage of child sexual abuse.
These paintings hew to an innocence. His arc of triumphal wizz has the graceful curve of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Soft lines and the complementary colors of the bathrooms’ adjacent walls — pine green and light moss in one, apricot and burnt orange in the other — seem to speak to the painter’s lack of artistic guile. Although the more I try to describe their naturalness the more I feel slightly embarrassed. Do I protest too much and if so, why? In order to deflect the questions of adults being charmed by paintings of children? In order to make clear Kevin’s relationship to these objects d’art of his was pure?
I became the somewhat unreliable but loving docent to the Kevin Kennedy Museum of Artifacts, which includes these paintings and more stuff I’ll share, when he died in 1991. I am not particular interested in what the boy in the paintings is pondering. His youthful focus on his
reading material and his stream say enough. My curiosity is more personal. Why Kevin bought these seems obvious: They are simple and lovely, aged and charming. But what did he think when he looked at them, once they were his? What kindly pleasure or bemused wit or hint of melancholy did he feel? I gaze and guess and gaze some more.
I never found a word about the artist of these paintings. So much for the wisdom of the internet. I will have to make due with them being precious to me.