I visited Mom, who recognizes me but doesn't really track much.
She was born in Berlin in 1921, a terrible year to be a baby, and a terrible country to be born in. Both her parents were artists. Her mother painted loose, accurate portraits that captured something of the soul. Even painted on crappy yellowing wartime paper, they shimmer with life.
Her father was a German expressionist. He painted backdrops for films, and did lots of oils. The landscapes and still lifes are pretty good, and the portraits are studies in shape and color, without regard to the inner light of the sitter. He refused to join the Nazi Party so his career was sidelined until after the war, when the Americans installed him as dean of the Hamburg Art School.
Mom became an illustrator, working for the American occupation forces after WWII as a portraitist and crafts teacher. Her illustrations are whimsical, colorful, and precise. She's one of my favorite artists.
When I visited her in the care facility, I brought a book about Gauguin, who used to be one of her favorite artists. She paged through it, but has forgotten why she liked him. "What is this stuff?" she asked me, peering at me in a worried way. "I don't like it."
"All right," I said, soothingly, and put the book away. Then I showed her this website. I started with the page "Dreamings," because Mom used to be a master at drawing chimeras and fairy tales. Her favorite theme was the Wild Hunt through stormy midnight skies, with rabid hounds and terrified horses and the antlered God of the Hunt. But she looked at my fantastic paintings and asked, in bafflement, "What is it for?"
So I showed her the page, "Forest." She glanced at them briefly, and said, "Where did you take these photos?"
"Around my house," I said. "They're paintings."
She looked at me carefully. "Paintings? Why?"
Finally I showed her the little expressionist paintings I've been doing recently. She perked up at once. "I like these!" she said. We spent a companionable half hour gazing at each one, discussing the choice of color and form in detail. She did not mind that they were not entirely realistic, and did not object to the saturated colors.
I've been thinking about that. It seems to me that she has gone back to deep childhood, the artistic ideas that saturated and nurtured her. What is right and proper to her mind are the robust, emotional, and passionate colors and shapes of expressionism. Everything else, everything she learned later and experimented with and flirted with, it's all faded away.