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Refrigerator Art

August 27, 2012


Our grandson excitedly announced plans for his eight-year-old birthday party.

“Papa Kirk, will you come to my birthday party? I’m having an art show! The name of my show is ‘Dragons, Monsters, Monster Trucks, and Other Things That Scare My Dad and Me.’”

“I’ll be there!” I promised. “I’ll even bring cupcakes if you want me to.” I wouldn’t miss Michael’s gala event for all of the boiled peanuts in Spartanburg.

I am not the least bit surprised that Michael is having his own art show. His dad, our son Kris, is the Assistant Dean and Coordinator for Studio Art at Wofford College. Kris has a professional commitment to encourage beginning artists. I credit my wife, Clare, for cultivating that passion in him.

When our children were in kindergarten and elementary school, they were all prolific artists. Every week they each brought home a new masterpiece. Their work was usually on thick, coarse paper that reminded me of newsprint. The media varied from faint pencil to smudged pen and ink, from smeared crayons to runny watercolor or chalky pastels.

Clare used our refrigerator as a kiosk. When a new work came home from school, Clare proudly posted it on the Frigidaire. Each of our five children had a sample of their work prominently displayed at all times. When older works were replaced by the most recent, Clare carefully placed the treasures in an oversized homemade folio in order to preserve them.

As our children grew older and their artistic abilities developed, we framed many of the more striking works. While the refrigerator was still the place of honor for one piece of art produced by each child, the walls of our home, especially an upstairs hallway, became an art gallery. To this very day, nearly every inch of available space on our walls is occupied by the artistic work of our children.

On Father’s Day 2010, our children encouraged me to try my hand at painting. What a surprise! I had never before thought of myself as an artist though I have done a lot of painting in my time, mostly on furniture and walls.  As a teenage boy, I spent most of one summer trying to paint a fence for my Uncle Wesley. The rough pine boards drank gallon after gallon of white paint, making the fence look like a bad whitewash job.

When our children suggested that I pursue this new hobby, I protested, “I can’t do that! I’m colorblind.”

They, of course, knew of my inability to distinguish colors. Through the years they have noticed my often mismatched socks. Our son Erik once quipped that my choices in neckties harkened back to a time before the invention of color.

My mother was the first to discover my color impairment. She could tell because I couldn’t distinguish red roses on a green bush.

“Dad, you ought to try painting,” our children persisted.

Performing artists know full well the terror of stage fright. All creative artists are afflicted with a similar fear. It might be described as the dread of the blank page and the subsequent uncertainty about how the work will be received.

As an author I have often experienced the joyful urge to write accompanied by the anxiety of having the reader take in hand what I have penned. These ambivalent emotions make any creative endeavor an act of courage.

I was uncertain of my ability to paint, but I dared to make an attempt.

I assembled a few paints, dragged out an easel our children used when they were preschoolers, scrounged together some old paint brushes and a forgotten shaving brush, and gave it a try.

Kris viewed my first tentative attempt.

Ever the teacher, he asked, “Are you happy with it?”

“No!” I answered. “It doesn’t look anything like the picture I had in my mind.”

I must confess that I felt like one of our young children presenting a piece of art, hoping it would be displayed on the refrigerator door.

Though dissatisfied with my initial effort, I have, nevertheless, continued to paint. My children, now adults, have commented on my work, “Dad, you have such an unusual use of colors; they are so vivid!”

I cannot see the colors, but I can read the labels on the tubes of paint. I am having fun!

In my painting I am like a sixty-eight-year-old kindergartener. That is why I admire my grandson Michael and his courage to create and display his work.

Michael’s art show and birthday party is planned for Saturday, September 1. I will take special delight in his work, not only as a granddad, but also as a fellow novice artist. The event is free and open to the public. If you would like to attend, there is no need to bring a gift. Michael, Kris, and I will be glad to see you. The opening is scheduled from 4:30-6:30 at Kris’ studio and gallery, Wet Paint Syndrome located on the back side of Hillcrest Specialty Row, 1040 Fernwood-Glendale Rd., Suite 34, Spartanburg, SC 29307.

I hope to see you there. You, too, may be inspired to try your hand at refrigerator art.


Kirk H. Neely
© August 2012








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