Nanny Vonnegut painted In My Father’s Shoes following the death of the shoes’ owner, author Kurt Vonnegut. The picture possesses an arresting three-dimensionality from having been painted with enamel on both sides of a glass panel, but is compelling as well for the story behind it, as described by Vonnegut in her artist’s statement:
“I did not intend this show to be a memorial to my dad, but of course it is. I signed up for this show in February, full of energy and a lot of ideas. All that went out the window by March, and even more dramatically in April, when my father died. I wanted to sleep, but my dealer, Leslie, suggested ‘I use my grief.’ Just getting to my studio was what I had to do and the work came slowly but surely, like being in a darkroom and watching the pictures develop. I did not consciously use my grief, it used me.
“About the shoes. My dad never changed his shoe style. He wore his white, Top-Sider sneakers until his toes poked through and the soles were flapping. Other than those, he wore dirty bucks. He had three pairs of dirty bucks in his closet that his wife was kind enough to send me after he died. They were in three states: one almost new, one slightly worn, and the other entirely beat-up. Reflexively, I put my feet in the most worn pair as soon as I got them out of the box, and my work took on a whole new energy.
“Shoes are such an obvious metaphor, but I’m past the age of trying too hard to find new ones. This is also a memorial to my mother, now gone 20 years, who had a closet full of shoes, much like the red ones I painted, next to the painting of my father’s dirty bucks.”
“Just Passing Through,” an exhibition of Vonnegut’s surreal semi-autobiographical narratives, is on view at the Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through October 8. (413) 442-1622; www.FerrinGallery.com.