Look At This Painting. Do You See What I See?

This painting has hung in a prominent position in my home for 21 years. I bought it from an Ohio artist I greatly admire, Phyllis Levine, and with her permission I reproduced it on the first 4-color (and I date myself with that term) cover of the magazine I was publishing at the time, Family Times of Cleveland. I have always loved this painting. I’ve also perversely loved the fact that just about everyone else who’s laid eyes on it has hated it – or been ambivalent about it – except for my two daughters Sarah and Hannah. We three feel an emotional bond with this painting and in it we see the same thing: an inscrutable woman. An enigma. Is she content, looking into space absorbed by her own thoughts? Or is she unhappy, feeling trapped by life’s circumstances, represented here by the askew and over-close kitchen appliances crowding and converging on her? Is she wistful? Sad? Is she planning, plotting, thinking of greater things? Or she just plain old damned tired, an uncomplicated woman at the end of a day filled with work whether burdensome or satisfying?

I don’t know. But I like her. I like the sturdiness of her body, the beauty and utility of her wrapped-up hair – ready to do, or possibly just having done – some serious work. I like that, clearly, she doesn’t talk too much.

I want to sit with her – to, together with her, be quietly aware of the day, the hour, the living, the companionable silence.  I want to join in her moment of reflection and share the communion of our womanhood. In the old days it would involve a cigarette. Today, most likely a glass of wine.

I suppose I like this woman because she is me.

What do you see in this picture?

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5 thoughts on “Look At This Painting. Do You See What I See?

  • I see myself during that period after the children were grown and when my husband just say on the couch daily and let me do all the work and bring in all the money….it seemed hopeless when i thought that was all my life was going to be, then i got involved in local politics, ran for election, eventually became the first lady mayor of my small town (2600 people). Now with his death, and my dad’s death, my life changed, moved home to take care of my mom, she died after 3 years, and now have bought a little travel trailer, and am going to start camping….I am 75, if I die on the road, I die….but I will not be that lady in the picture, trapped by her stove and her life….

    • I am sad to hear of your travails, but I love the outcome of your story. You didn’t sit and feel sorry, you got involved, and ultimately became the first lady mayor of your town. Then you became the sole caretaker of your mother, a challenging time I am sure. Now you are alone, but I don’t hear “alone.” I hear strength and resolve as you look forward at life. I love the idea of you taking a little travel trailer on the road, and camping when and where you please. Bravo to you! Bravo!

  • I see Rosie the Riveter on a coffee break. She’s a tough broad, but even tough broads take a minute for themselves and daydream while the kettle’s boiling. She’s pleasantly tired from her morning’s work, but has great plans for the rest of the day. There’s no stopping her! Just as soon as she has a snack.

  • She feels fenced in. Trapped in the kitchen with the sink and stove. Dressed for housework. She needs a friend to stop by, she needs to talk to someone. She needs to find an outlet for her creativity – and I doubt that she knows she has any creativity. Maybe not barefoot and pregnant – but trapped.

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