July 29th, 2013

Dear Linda,

It is with great sadness that I find myself writing this letter regarding Brian’s portrait to you. As you know, Brian and I shared a love for athleticism, intellectual life and art. This common bond was formed during the year we shared at my studio on Wareham Street and around town in Boston, 2006-07. Brian would come to do his homework at the studio while I painted and we would talk, and laugh, and be good company for each other. I would often drive Brian to diving practice in the afternoons at B.U. where he felt he was not being challenged. This opinion may have been influenced by his experience at the studio where life, as we jibed, was “asymptotically off the charts”.

The studio operated as a traditional salon with a constant flow of visiting artists, PhD’s and geniuses, including one of Brian’s favorites, artist Graydon Parrish. Brian quickly fell into our circle as we listened to his detailed descriptions of the beauty of human form and his mastery of designing his dives… “Those who are just technical in their diving lack grace. Unfortunately divers are not scored on their grace”…. He once said. At the studio Grace was valued above all else and Brian, I felt, as did others, was cut from the cloth. There Brian developed an opinion that studying business at B. U. paled by comparison to a practice of Arts and Science at Berkeley. After many discussions, Brian hatched his decision to major in architecture and design. I was happy for him and yet quite sad to see him move back to California that late August.

We kept in touch over the years that followed. I started working on Brian’s portrait in 2010, maybe 2011 and continued with it between passages of painting His Holiness, The 13th Dalai Lama. It started as a sepia sketch and later became a meditation on youth and optimism. I sent Brian several iterations via text as it evolved. He admired that I was painting him and that I had him on my mind. In exchange he send me his drawings and asked my advice. These correspondences meant so much to me. Brian’s nascent identity as an artist was formed.

Last September Brian asked to study with me. I of course was utterly delighted to say yes! We planned with verve and a sense of possibility for the summer ahead. I received many lucid phone calls throughout last winter and spring from Brian telling me he couldn’t wait to get here and that he wished on many occasion he were already on island.

It was my plan for him to focus exclusively on contemporary applications of Beaux Arts training. Brian knew I was deeply committed to the revitalization of American Classicism. He too agreed that classical art and architecture out shined so much of the irony, parody, and nihilism, common in today’s art world. Brian wanted to make a contribution to this cause. His acumen and winsome nature seemed ripe for the endeavor.

Given all that I now know of Brian’s silent struggle, I find it deeply profound that he crossed the country and made it to this tiny island to see me before he died. Despite the severity of his illness, which he strangely never disclosed to me, he got here. Despite my instructions for him to return home and take more time to recover, he defied me and got here. He got here because he knew I loved him and would forgive him for the slips he underwent. He got here because he had the incentive and desire to improve, reinvent and search for an artistic answer to the dilemma of life, its suffering, and its joy. Now I know what those tears meant as we held each other on the top of Main Street just a few weeks ago. He had just begun his journey into what would have become the sojourn of Raphael, Leonardo, Titian and others kindred spirits. In Brian’s darkness, postponing the journey till winter or next summer, after traveling so far to get here and through such a tough time in rehab was a great disappointment. Returning to California must have felt like such a step backward. It was a miracle that he stood before me. Those tears where a fusion of joy that he made it to Nantucket and heartache that the dream we shared had been so terribly compromised. He wanted to be well. I knew it.

I hope you can see in his portrait the dignity and intelligence I knew your son to possess. He was so refined a young man, utterly gracious and endearing. From optimism and beauty comes patience and forgiveness. Looking at it today, I can only say I placed full faith in Brian’s potential. It is tragic that his illness veiled the lens through which he saw the light, the same light that we too must continue to follow and pray for.

Please keep the painting in your family along with this letter. I have also enclosed Brian’s pedagogical lineage as he did study drawing through text messaging with me. For all intensive purposes I believe Brian belongs to this great stream of thinkers and I will always include him as one of my exceptional students who touched my life and whose life I had the privilege of knowing. I will cherish him in my heart forever.

Call any time. My prayers are with you, Jim, Michelle, and Jenna.

With sincere condolences,

Lisa Sawlit


Copyright 2010 by Lisa Sawlit. All rights reserved