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  • Trish Kennedy-Howe

Having My Portrait Painted (Part 3)

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Time went by. Over the next few years, I never forgot that at one time, I was having my portrait painted by a celebrated artist, who had been rated one of the five best student artists in the Soviet Union!

We eventually moved away from Hilton Head Island to Louisville, Kentucky so I could take a position as designer for a wallcovering company. Every once in a while, I would call the new phone number for Grigori that I had been given by the manager of the frame shop. Barbara sometimes answered the phone (and sometimes Grigori answered, although I was never sure exactly what he was telling me). Barbara kept me up to date with the progress of the painting. Most of the time, it was something like, "Well, Grigori was painting your portrait, but then he found a new kind of very superior paint, so he started all over." Or, "Grigori needed surgery on his hand and had to take some time off. But he will resume working on your portrait soon." There were many excuses, but I'm a patient person, and I was determined to wait it out. I was certain that someday I would see that portrait.

Eventually, it was twelve years - yes, twelve years! - since Tim and I had posed for our portrait on the Hilton Head Island beach. My husband smiled and nodded his head indulgently. My friends scoffed when I told them the story. "You actually think you're going to get that portrait?" It got to be a real joke. Even my own mother chuckled at my gullibility. Then, one day, out of the blue, Barbara called me. "Your portrait is finished! Grigori and I are traveling to Hilton Head in two weeks. Can you meet us there and take possession of the portrait? " And, she added, "bring the balance owed?"

Yes! I would do that! My husband and I drove from Louisville to Hilton Head and met up with Grigori and Barbara at the frame shop. I walked into the store, saw the portrait, and immediately my eyes filled with tears. I became very emotional at seeing the amazing likenesses of Tim and myself, at long last. Grigori was such an incredible painter. The portrait looked like something I had seen at some of the great art museums I had visited throughout the years. I hugged them both and thanked Grigori profusely for his beautiful work.

So, I now have the portrait hanging in my living room. I enjoy and appreciate it every day. I live in Florida now and whenever a hurricane is threatening us, I make arrangements for the portrait. It either goes into a unit I have on the second floor of a very secure storage building. Or, if we're evacuating, it goes to a safe place with us in the car.

So what happened to Grigori? Since I have used the word "was" when speaking of him, you may have gotten the impression that he is no longer with us. Well, that, sadly, is true. He passed away from cancer a few years ago. According to Barbara, the doctors said his cancer was probably caused by his method of grinding pigments and creating his oil paints from scratch over the years. He was such a purist that he wanted his paints to be like the ones originally used by the great masters from the nineteenth century and before. But the pigments had gradually migrated into his skin. Artists today are advised to always wear plastic gloves when using oil paints. Not just ground pigments can be dangerous. Regular modern oil paints can be hazardous too. That's an important message I would like to get across here to everyone who paints with oils.

Although my experience with the eccentric Grigori was a bit - no, a lot frustrating - at times, I will always remember him fondly and admire him as a truly dedicated and immensely talented painter.

Thank you, Grigori!

woman and son portrait painting

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