This piece originated from a series of screenshots I took from footage of a pediatrician’s office in Taiwan. Most of the footage shows a mother with her child on her lap speaking with an elderly female doctor while a nurse stands off to the side waiting to assist. The camera was capturing a bird’s eye view of the space and you could see every computer, office supply, plastic tub and glove dispenser in the mostly monochromatic room, as well as the three women in their entirety.
I started the painting from that vantage point, eager to incorporate all of those surrounding details, until I hit a wall and realized something had been lost. Although one part of my mind was distracted by all of those little objects that screamed “doctor’s office” and seemed like they’d be a lot of fun to paint, I realized my intent with the original footage wasn’t to make sure the viewer recognized the setting, but that they got a sense of the interconnectedness of the women in that setting.
Most of the screenshots show a straightforward exchange between mother and doctor until the doctor suddenly starts examining the child’s head with the nurse rushing over to help. The image out of context, now cropped to cut out the noise, suddenly had metaphorical significance for me and triggered thoughts about power dynamics between parents and authority figures – the level of trust and vulnerability necessary for someone to feel comfortable putting their child in the hands of a relative stranger, even while they’re in the room supervising. I was vaguely reminded of Matisse’s “The Dance” – although I have no affinity for that piece in particular – the power of touch and the symbolic shape of unity resulting from the women’s physical intimacy toward one another. Immediately following this was the reminder that I, unbeknownst to them, was watching and documenting this private moment from miles away.
Visually, the convergence of hands on the child’s head – the nurse holding it in place, the mother stroking it calmly, the doctor performing a routine checkup that could appear both gentle and aggressive at the same time – is what became the new focus of the painting. As I scraped and wiped away layers, I felt less and less certain of exactly what those hands were doing. The palette of the piece became colder and even more monochromatic, and the doctor’s bright turquoise hairnet became more of a white surgical cap, the doctor’s face now matching the others’ in that its expression was unreadable.
These things further emphasized the grey area between fragile handling and mild violence, which made me think of the painful task of the parent to do things that may cause their child distress in order to keep them alive and healthy. It also reminded me of my partner and I having to firmly restrain our cat so that we can clip her nails. She squirms and whines because she doesn’t understand that it will keep her from getting caught on fabric, keep her paws from hurting, allow her to sit on our laps like she loves to do (Izzy, if only you could understand…)