I am happy to share with you my portrait of Mr. Layton Sanders of New York City. Layton and I met many years ago when I had the pleasure of teaching him Latin at Hampden-Sydney College. The portrait was done in the spirit of lasting friendship.


Just back from the Toronto Film Festival and the world premiere of a new film "A Year Ago In Winter" by Oscar-winning director Caroline Link. The film is closely based on the soon-to-be published novel "Aftermath" by Scott Campbell, my friend of forty years. Scott's novel was inspired by my 1996 portrait called "The Red Balloon." My experience is recounted below.

The Red Balloon

She NEEDED the painting. Of her son and daughter together. She told me about his death, about the pain, about the loss. Perhaps a painting could heal it, a painting of the two of them, sister and brother, side-by-side, together again.

I wondered. I had painted other portraits for parents who had lost children. It sometimes seemed to heal, but this time struck me as different. I knew her really well. She was a complex person - always running on fast. And something told me this request was part of running too.

I started to paint.

At first the boy was there on the canvas next to his sister, as he had been in life. But it was wrong, a lie, to put him there as though it had never happened. I could sense he didn't want to be there. He refused to look like himself. He absolutely wouldn’t cooperate with this particular fiction. So I painted him out. GONE. It was like he died all over again, a hard day for me. His sister was alone on the canvas, and she remained alone for six weeks. Spooky.

I didn’t know what to do. And then I got it, the idea. He told me what to do. There was a photograph, one of the many his mother had given me, a photo of him at a party, with a pointy hat on, holding a balloon, the prankster, which I knew to be a very real part of him. I copied the photo into the painting, behind his sister, on the blue wall of the background, affixed with painted tape. I remembered their mother telling me about them as little kids and their favorite movie, THE RED BALLOON, and so his balloon went red, even though the photo was black and white, and his sister got a red balloon too, as though he'd passed it on to her.

Their mother cried when she saw the painting, and she laughed at the prankster in the photo. I think until then she hadn’t really accepted that he had died. And then she thanked me for taking a risk to tell the truth, which has helped to heal her heart.