henry's sketchbook

my brother's sketchbooks inspired me to go to art school. i always enjoyed drawing but, when he was in high school, my brother took it seriously enough to apply for a spot in our local magnet program. with training, his talent exploded in a big bang sort of way. his fondness for dissecting boom boxes bore fruit as a perpetual motion machine, a moving sculpture. friends and strangers found their way into his large, bold paintings. his drawings were much better than realistic; they were heartbreakingly good.

best of all this were his sketchbooks. henry made his own. out of cardboard. out of rubber. out of aluminum cans. no joke. nothing was off limits in those books. he filled them with ideas, sketches, finished paintings, and wild experiments. one of my friends commented that you can't just look at them; you have to smell them. because there are pages slick with polyurethane. others are caked with crud. one collage includes "the last american dread" labeled and lacquered over a portrait of a screaming chimpanzee. i treasured every glimpse of those sketchbooks. they lit fires inside of me.

but henry didn't feel the same way. he threw his sketchbooks around. he misplaced them. when our family moved to a different state, he left them behind. years later, i found them in our grandmother's pantry. "just throw them away," he told me. "no way! no. i'm going to keep them. i'm going to keep them until you want them back."

the last time henry came to visit, he looked through his old sketchbooks. he looked at paintings of his old friends, self-portraits he'd drawn and drawn over. he remembered the stories hidden in each page. he is actually embarrassed by these books. they are not works of genius, in his opinion. they are frantic, flawed, arrogant. regarding one delightfully cubistic landscape, he said "i didn't do that on purpose. i just didn't know any better," now i know why he can't see them the way i do: they document his adolescence.

but, see for yourself, his adolescence was amazing.

© 2007 rama hughes