Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wah-Lee-Gee's Doodles and Painting

The Continued Anti-Anti-Clutter Campaign – The Stories Inside Of Things

    A civil engineer, my dad, Wally, in so many ways fit into the classic stereotype of all engineers -- a quiet, smart, mathematical, measured, and no-nonsense kind of guy. When I was little, every morning, he'd go off to work designing freeways for the California Department of Transportation wearing a dark suit, white button-down shirt, wing-tips, and a skinny dark tie, right out of the post-war Mad Men era.
     He was also a trickster -- a fun-loving, all-nonsense artist. He could doodle like nobody's business, creating margins full of critters and creatures that framed his planning meeting notes.
     "Draw me a giraffe," I'd ask, sitting at the dining room table with him or in a restaurant waiting for the waitress to deliver our meal.
     "Now a zebra." He'd pull the pencils from his shirt pocket and draw right on the scallop-edged white paper placemats at Pancake Heaven or at Los Delicious.
     "A Griffin!" Guiding the pencils to create a lion with the head and wings of an eagle, his thick hands and square fingers suggested a manual laborer, but their silky softness identified him as a man of arts and letters.
     He could create a menagerie with a few quick strokes of his mechanical pencils -- graphite and red and blue -- realistic renditions of actual animals or fanciful versions of mythical creatures straight out of stories.
     Every Christmas, Dad would recreate the family holiday card my mother had carefully chosen, enlarging it into a poster-sized door hanging. He'd shop for the perfect paper and cloth, ribbons and paints, measure and cut each piece precisely, then assemble the pieces with glue and pins, into a three-dimensional collage, finish it off with paint, a perfect enlargement of the Christmas message. I remember one year, around 1960, I was only five or six, when we lived in the Newton Street house in San Fernando, the Three Kings posed, dressed in rich fabrics and holding their golden, jewel-bedecked gift boxes, on our door. Another year, a colorful partridge, perching on a branch amidst golden pears, adorned the door.
     At the same time, he placed carefully cut pieces of red, green, blue, and gold tissue paper in the diamond-shaped windows of our garage. Switching on the garage lights at night, turned the windows into glowing stained glass windows for the holidays.
     During my teen years, in the mid to late sixties, Dad took up oil painting, for years going to weekly lessons at a studio in Chatsworth, while my sister and I swam laps at swim team workouts just down the street. The first painting he completed, a still-life of blue hydrangeas (or maybe they were chrysanthemums) in a blue glass vase, he gave to his mother, my Grandma Gladys, for her birthday on Valentine's Day. It hung prominently in her home for years; Grandpa kept it hanging long after her death.
      In 1984, in anticipation of the birth of my son, Dean, his only grandchild, my father painted a huge mural, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, in what was to be the nursery. Two yachts, brightly striped spinnakers round and full with wind, raced across a blue sea. Smaller boats dotted the scene, their white sails pale and dwarfed by the straining, round rainbows.
     Like Dad, who passed away in 2011 at 89, the doodles are long gone. So are the door posters. The new homeowners have long since painted over the nursery sailboats. But many of the framed oil paintings remain. The half-dozen of Dad's paintings that hang in my home, clustered on my walls, turn my parlor into a colorful and warm art gallery. Everyday, their presence brings my serious-playful, engineer-artist father to life. They invite you to sit, get comfortable, stay a while. 
     The orange-haired clown with arching black brows and painted scarlet smile catches your eye first, inviting you to smile in return. Dad went through a clown phase, painting this one, its complementary twin in blue-and-gold, and a pair of clown sweethearts for my mom. The other two paintings live in other homes.
     Two overalls-and-straw-hats-clad boys, brothers and/or best friends, sit side-by-side, backs-to-the-viewer, fishing off a dock. Were they meant to be "the boys", as my grandparents called their two oldest sons, Wally and Bob? Dad wouldn't say, but that's what Mom always believed.
     A sailboat waits, hauled out and stranded in drydock, water just out of reach of its newly painted red keel. Traditionally dressed workmen labor around a wagon in an Okinawan street, a place where my dad was stationed during The Big War.
     A quiet, early-morning street awakens. It could be exotic Havana or our hometown of San Fernando, with its small park and adobe-colored buildings with arched windows.
     Engineer Wallace Griffin carefully labeled all his business papers in a precise draftsman style printing, while the artist Wally Griffin playfully signed all his paintings with a squiggled Wah-Lee-Gee.