I actually worked at the same small high school as Gaela (and admired numerous pieces of her work) during my three years in Louisville, and I have been drawn to this portrait since the first time I saw a photograph of it on a poster hanging in her classroom. I was fortunate enough to see it in person at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, DC, when it was included, as a commended work, in the 2009 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition exhibition.
The portrait is visually stunning, but I think the story behind it – and of the images literally hidden within it – are just as moving as the image itself.
Gaela described it in the following statement included in the Boochever exhibition guide:
“My painting is about loss and redemption. In 1993 my husband Robert Kingsley died, followed by the death, in 2004, of my life partner Robert Harris. Located in the sky of this painting, in the upper left and right hand corners, are detailed portraits of these two men. Their images have been completely obscured by the clouds. My experience has been that though death may obliterate the physicality of our loved ones, they remain intact deep within the fabric of our being. This self-portrait is an expression of loss and the transformative process of grief and reconciliation.”