Mary Jane Volkmann

The Pout of a Hundred Possible Meanings, May 2020
Oil on Linen
20 x 24 x 0.75 in
Prior to the pandemic, this photo of one of my friend's children caught my eye. It touched my heart, and I couldn't get it out of my mind, so I called her and asked if I could use it as material for a painting. Everything about it made me think of children: a universal love for pizza; the abandonment of restraint when they can freely dig in the dirt; their curiosity in secretly exploring places they aren't supposed to be; their delight when you play a game with them and they ask again and again, even though you've just finished the 20th round; and, of course, that perfect pout cloaking a hundred possible meanings while grabbing your heartstrings. Then the pandemic hit. It pulled the rug out from under our lives, threw dire uncertainty into our paths, and confined us to home. The streets became eerily empty, but I continued my daily walk around the neighborhood. Initially, there were only a few other people out walking, and when we encountered each other, we awkwardly did the careful six-foot circle around each other. Then I began noticing laughter. I saw parents in their gardens playing clever and imaginative games with their delighted children. Gradually more families started coming out for walks, pulling children in wagons, running together, riding all sorts of bikes, or assisting the little ones in walking their dogs. Even though we would be walking in opposite directions, from across the street, we met each other with friendly greetings and smiles and even some sweet conversations. I do not doubt that many of these families are under tremendous strain and worry, having lost jobs and income and not knowing how the future will unfold, but there seems to be a reaching out despite it. Given what I'm seeing, the thoughtful conversations I am witnessing online and the number of offers of free and creative programs for children shared, I am hopeful that in some way this pandemic is reorienting our lives and that we are becoming more attentive to each other and to this beautiful trust in our midst: the children.