Pictures of My Mother

March 16, 2013 — 15 Comments
04.Rodick.Portrait.FrancesRodick.RedPearls.1024px copy

Portrait, Frances Rodick (Red Pearls)
©2012, Frank Rodick
Archival pigment print, 100 x 82 cm / 40 x 32 inches

Last September, Irina Chmyreva, who curated my exhibition Faces Interred, asked me to write something about some of that show’s work. I usually hate artist’s statements, so I tried to write something different. This post is a reprint of what I wrote.

If you want to see a complete set of the images I’m talking about, along with details, click here.

When artists write about their own work, what they usually come up with is an explanation or interpretation. They—we—try to answer the question What’s this work really all about?

The question is a good one and it’s reasonable to ask it. But I’m not comfortable answering it, especially with this work. Whatever motivated me, whatever questions I was asking, whatever itch I was trying to scratch—the pictures are my answer. I think—I know— they’re a better answer than what I could tell you with words.

I’ll leave the interpretations to people more inclined and better suited to do just that. If you, dear viewer, take the time to look carefully at these pictures and say what you think is going on, well, I want you to know that I’m  honoured by that.

What I will do is tell you the story behind these portraits. No, I’ll tell you a story, because I wouldn’t presume it’s the conclusive story, or that there even is one. One thing I know is how nebulous and muddy things get when it comes to the motives and emotions that exist within and between human beings.

Besides, I can’t say everything . . . and I’m certain the pictures know more than I do.


Portrait, Frances Rodick (Time)
©2012, Frank Rodick

Frances Rodick gave birth to me. She lived a long time—long enough to be scarred by the Great Depression, to sit in front of the family TV set showing Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and to see the Twin Towers collapse. She lived long enough to see her family grow modestly, and then—through madness, disease, and rancor—wither. Long enough to develop a sharp and stormy mind and then lose it, piece by piece but in the end completely.

My mother was born into a life that would be one degree of separation from a great catastrophe that was acutely personal and terribly historical. She gave that horror a home inside herself, powered by a dark energy that snaked its way through every day, every corner, of her life. Through a process more relentless than calculated, she made sure that nightmare would, in an evolving  incarnation, breathe and whisper inside me as well.

Frances’ life and mine showed me that Ibsen was right: sin and mayhem will run through generations, like blood through an artery. And just as quietly.

In 2004, over six hazy days, I cremated my father and then institutionalized my mother, whose mind and body had fallen apart. As part of that impossible assignment of “taking care of things” I went through their mountains of belongings. These were people who saved everything. Just in case. In case of disaster.

I found these photographs of my mother from 1942—the time when, unknown to her, her life’s darkest star was beginning to burn most fiercely. They became my starting point. My father, Jack, took most of the pictures that came after—he loved photographing Frances—but not these. I don’t know who took them, just the date, written on the back.

After my father’s death, my mother endured another six years of what might lazily be called life, existing in that crippled body and razed mind. One afternoon she looked at me with black watery eyes and asked in a soft but clear voice if she’d ever had children. “Yes,” I said. “One.” But it took just that long for her mind to sink back into another world far away from here.

Passport sized photo of Frances Rodick from 1942 that I foundPhoto ©Frank Rodick, 2013

Photo of Frances Rodick from 1942.
Photo ©2013, Frank Rodick

There are dozens of clichés about the death of one’s parents. Maybe the most common is the one that says it’s a reminder you’re next, that your time is coming. I don’t think that happened with me. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I was already fairly acquainted with mortality’s fact, even my own.

Watching my parents struggle I did see some of death’s work from up close. The way it makes seconds stretch into years and years collapse into moments. The way it makes doing that one last thing impossible: those words never said or taken back, that question never asked, the blessing wished for but never given.

There are things I admired about my mother. Her specific kind of generosity, with others if not herself. Her sense of humour. The way she rejected God and Heaven with unconcern, in spite of a life that wasn’t easy.

At her worst, Frances Rodick colluded with the spirits that tortured her, discharging an enraged and jagged pain into a shrunken world that in her own modest way she managed to mutilate if not destroy.

©Frank Rodick, 2012Archival pigment print100 H x 81 W cm / 40 x 32 in

Portrait, Frances Rodick (Stone-Blind)
©2012, Frank Rodick

It was after her death that I started work on these images. I thought the timing was a coincidence, but maybe not. I forget who it was who said artists should create as if their parents are dead—because a parent can be the most insidious censor, the kind that does its business straight out of one’s mind and belly.

I began by laying out these old photos—pictures of Frances, and others too. I looked through my parents’ documents and papers, as many as I could find. Some were old—birth certificates, letters, business documents—and some more recent: wills, notes on medical care, the do-not-resuscitate orders and death certificates. Parts of the text you see on some of my pictures came from those documents.

I never had a plan in making this work.

Maybe these pictures of Frances are a kind of biography—of her, of me, of her and me stitched together in that sad and harrowing way we never stopped being. If they are, they’re an hallucinatory biography, because, in the end, one hazards only a tremulous guess at knowing other people, including oneself and—especially—one’s parents. But if they are hallucinations, maybe they’re the kind Louis-Ferdinand Céline talked about: those fictions—some shining, some terrible—those fictions that are more real than everyday life itself. Sometimes that’s how it feels to me, and, as I think about it, that may even be where the remains of my hopes lie.

Text copyright 2012 Frank Rodick


97532, no. 2
©2011, Frank Rodick
Based on a photograph of my mother two hours after her death.


15 responses to Pictures of My Mother


    This images are awesome! What great art!


    Beautiful…. so beautiful…


    these images are quite amazing, especially the final one, I get a sense of the heaviness of her long life, the final image where she has collapsed under that weight. But they are not sad and sentimental, they are very human.


    Great read and great pictures. Your mother was a very beautiful woman by looking at her photo taken in 1942, and strong as well (I think)…


    I’m not even sure what to say. For a visual artist, you write powerfully. There is a lot to think about here.

    I admire your ability to somehow transmute all that pain into art — worth looking at.


    That first image is powerful. Nicely done.


    These images are great. Pure art. It’s meant to be posted in a contemporary art gallery.


    oh, your words, so tender, deep. i am very moved by the story of your mother.


    Excruciatingly gorgeous, Frank. Heart-rending. You push farther than almost anyone I know, in terms of getting visuals to render anguish, dismay, loss, and descent. There is totemic power in your work. Thanks.


    I was completely mesmerized by you work and your story – it was very tough for me in some parts as I had a mother who was, for all intents and purposes, brilliant and charming then raging and physically dangerous . She was also very beautiful but when she died she looked much like your rendition of your mother… I did not cry at her funeral. I couldn’t. I never have but i do understand her better. I think your arty and your writing is a thing of awesome proportion. I will be using your short story as an example in my writers group . Hopefully, you will not mind. it needs sharing.


      Thanks for those kind words about my work. Much appreciated. If you’re interested in some other things I’ve written about my work, you’re welcome to check out my blog, which I’m moving over to my website at At the risk of this sounding like a plug, I also have a newsletter that people can sign up for at; it really isn’t like the typical artist’s newsletter (me, me, and more me) in that I try to connect people to things of wider interest… and it only comes out quarterly.

      And, of course, I don’t mind you using my piece in your artist’s group. It’s flattering actually. Comments and questions are welcome.

      You obviously survived your experiences with your mother, and I do hope you thrived out of it as well. Ask one biographer of Kafka (Père Kafka being the problem here) said: All parents fail (though I would add: some more than others) and all children weave that failure into their lives.

      Thanks and all the best,


        Thank You for your very kind response… I will let you know what the reaction is at the group meeting at the end of this month – Keep doing what you are doing… You are quite rare in my opinion

        Stay Free.
        Elle (Ravenwriter7)

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