When my son Jude was born I felt challenged by facets of fatherhood I had not been forced to explore with my daughter. The weight of this new responsibility seemed heavier. Something about having a son touched a nerve – an anxiety that had been buried and was now wriggling under the soil of my self-image. I had to teach him to be a man. I’d been making abstract paintings for years. When I’d consider the idea of painting my son it seemed too provincial and detached from the concerns of contemporary art. If I were to do it, I’d have to remove myself from more serious commitments, or so it seemed. During this time I had a recurring image of Jude standing there years from now asking me if I’d handled my calling with sincerity, asking “were you true to your convictions?” “Did you sacrifice for what mattered?” Painting him was a way to relieve the growing desire to paint what is closest to me, but it was also a way to communicate with the man my son will become. One day the painting will hang on the walls of his home and when he looks at it he’ll have in mind the image of his father, slouched over in a garage studio, painting every inch of his face with the utmost care.
Joseph McSpadden graduated with an M.F.A. in painting in 2006 from Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives with his wife and two children in metro Atlanta.