I want to be a fireman. I want to drive a garbage truck. I want to be a vampire.
My son has been making those kind of statements for years. They are always presented with infectious enthusiasm. Like many parents I feed into his desires, "that's nice dear," without thinking he will really end up fighting fires, collecting trash or sucking blood.
Last Sunday, our good friends, Carol and Milo, invited us over to their house for potluck and a swim. Hubby was busy, but that did not deter me. I bundled up the kidlets and trundled on over with hot dogs, little cuties, pink lemonade and a bottle of chardonnay.
Going to their house is always a pleasure. Not only do they have an eclectic, bubbly group of friends, but their home with the faintest whiff of oil and varnish is the epitome of an artist's idyll. Milo Reice is a wonderful painter and his vibrant multi media artwork adorn the walls. His works can be small celebrations of life, or they can be huge installation pieces, often times with mythological or biblical themes: murder, torture, crucifixion, nudity and sex (ah, those biblical themes) often make appearances in Milo's paintings. He shows regularly in galleries in Europe and here in the States, and it seems only fitting that in the movie Swordfish, Halle Berry strips in front of an authentic Milo Reice.
At one point I broke away from the pool to take a peek in Milo's studio, which makes me feel like a kid sneaking into a church. This is where amazing things are created, and I never know what I'll find. There leaning against the wall was one of his huge pieces. A naked beheaded man was lying on the ground, with blood everywhere. And kneeling over his body were two jubilant society ladies in modern dress, one with a pair of scissors in the act of snipping off... Hold up. I can't bring myself to write that. Let me just say she's about to execute a...double beheading. (Now, I can take a deep breath and maybe even uncross my legs.) I have been exposed to a lot of artwork in my life, but never before have I seen a corpse castration on canvas.
No matter how violent the piece Milo's somehow manages to infuse his works with his unique wry humor. For instance, these women look as if they're stuffing dollar bills into the g-string of a Chippendales dancer, rather than performing the ultimate snip snip. However, it wasn't the humor that I registered first. With ultimate horror I exclaimed, "Milo Reice!" Nonchalantly, Milo enters his studio and offered, "You've seen that before." But no, I was quite sure I hadn't.
Milo seemed to enjoy taking me in as I absorbed the grizzly act taking place on canvas. He then told me the title of the painting was Judith and the Head of Holifernes, based on one of the books from the Apocrypha, sort of a third testament if you will, sometimes included in the Bible, sometimes not. The main story in the Book of Judith is of a widow saving her people by getting Holifernes, one of King Nebuchadnezzar's generals, all lickered up and then cutting his head off. Most artists who tackled this topic, such as Michaelangelo, Gentileschi and Rubens simply showed the beheading. But Milo insisted that Judith would have had such adreneline coursing through her that she would have sliced off the general's privates as well. Poor Holifernes, or as Milo calls him, George W. Holifernes.
And Milo was in the middle of the painting's back story when Sebastian walked in. I stifled my initial instinct to yell, "Get out of here. This is not for children!" Because if I raised a red flag like that my six year old would have moved heaven and Earth to catch a glimpse. Instead, I impotently stood by watching my son study the painting. It felt like time stood still, which allowed me to reflect on my possible bad parenting technique. Then Maxie, my three year old, came in and stood next to her brother, both of them transfixed by this violently and sexually charged painting. Maxie gets scared much more easily than Bash. An episode of Scooby Doo can send her into fits of hysteria. Even still, I held back. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Finally Sebastian broke the silence.
"Gross," he said.
"Gross," Maxie echoed. She's in an echoing phase.
"Look at all that blood," Sebastian said disgusted. So much for being a vampire. "There's too much blood."
"...much blood," Maxie agreed.
Bash chided, "I can't believe you Milo."
"... you Milo," my mynah bird repeated.
And they both ran out.
No mention of the beheading, or the beHEADing, the bloody saw on the ground or the sharpened shears in hand. (Although later Sebastian said he thought the ray gun was cool. That's part of Milo's humor, including anachronistic objects as a nudge nudge, wink wink for the viewer.) All my worry and the only disturbing thing Sebastian could process was a pool of blood.
I want to be a fairy. I want to be a princess. I want to be a fairy princess. I want to be a ballet dancing fairy princess. I want to be a unicorn.
Much like my son, my daughter has had flights of fancy in regards to career direction. But when were driving home from Carol and Milo's house Maxie's tone was different. There was no lilt in her voice, no smile upon her face. She had made up her mind and no one was going to change it.
"Papa, I want to be an artist."
"Well, darling, that's great. What kind of artist do you want to be?"
"A painter like Milo."