The artist I love most.

When Jack was little, we started collecting his drawings in books labelled the Collected Works of Jack Tea Gregory. Before he was in middle school, we’d filled a shelf with big fat volumes. I don’t know that we always thought he’d be an artist— we didn’t give much thought to what he’d be like as a grownup. But he liked to draw and he had a great imagination and he made a lot of stuff all the time and that was just the way Jack was.

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“Dog expressions.” From the Collected Works of Jack Tea Gregory, Vol. 3. 2002

After four years at the Rhode Island School of Design, Jack and five other painters had their final Senior show last night. People held glasses of ginger ale and milled around walls covered with paintings and videos and projections. Jack had three pieces in the show, a sculpture, a painting and teeny, tiny drawing and layer he lead us up to his studio to see the rest of the work he’s been doing since he came from Rome last Christmas. It was voluminous.

Jack has been working on a series of related works for the last few months, all inspired by an encyclopedia of dogs he had as a kid. There’re a half dozen large, monochromatic and semi-abstract paintings based loosely on dog photos. There is a series of drawings and sculptures about Pluto and Goofy. A fabric sculpture of Pluto wearing dog mask that was embroidered with images of Goofy. A paper sculpture of an articulated dog that ran when you turn a crank. There was a huge painting of an attacking German shepherd. An abstracted figure with a speech balloon and a blurred action stroke. A book with a soft embroidered fabric cover that was filled with stretched digital abstraction and debossed imprints of dogs.

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Jack and Mickey, 2002

He has been working on a long series on Instagram. Each day he’d make a crude, bulbous, clay sculpture of Mickey Mouse. The next day he’d destroy the sculpture and reform it into another Mickey and upload a new picture. It went on for months.

Jack’s work never offers easy answers. It’s not ironic even when it’s using pop iconography. It’s always filled with emotion and a certain lack of control. It evokes loss and a commemoration of the underdog. His subjects always feel abandoned and overlooked.

When he was 19, he made a series of little sculptures he set up in the lost corners of alleyways around town. They were made by a fictional homeless artist who worked with found materials and then abandoned the sculptures to be ignored by passers by. The final pieces themselves were photos of the sculptures and their environs. One was in the ATM vestibule of a bank, photographed by a surveillance camera. In Rome, he made an installation of grubby, scratched and bent photos in glass frames. One had fallen to the ground and lay smashed underfoot.

Jack is an upbeat, funny guy. He has lots of friends, is warm and open. But his work reveals a dark part inside of him, forged perhaps by Patti’s disability and death, by his concern for the underprivileged and exploited.

Jack has always been a defender of the downtrodden. In middle school he was preoccupied with slavery and wrote plays and made drawings about old slaves who had lost their power to work. He has always worried about racism and sexism and how animals are treated.

I am so proud of him.

His willingness to reveal his feelings in his art, to have such high and selfless values, to be committed to his own creativity — they all make me bewildered at my part in making him who he is.

I don’t know where his art is going. Or where his life is going. It is beyond my control, even my influence. I think it will be challenging at times, the life of an artist always is. But I know it will be rich with experience, discovery, emotion, beauty and truth.

It’s hard for a parent to let go. To admit that your child is doing things you can’t do, sometimes can’t understand. But I have enormous faith in Jack and his abilities and talent and mind. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

31 thoughts on “The artist I love most.”

  1. That was a very good story and Jack sounds real god too, expressing life and feeling in his art, be it drawing, painting, sculpture, or what not.. art is actually the best way to emote about things. For ex., the children of Gaza, their best therepy is drawing their feelings (like after Istael imposed Op. Defensive Edge in 2014). Without being able to draw or color, we would not only be susceptible, but loose many things we have gained in this world.

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  2. wow. Such a lovely blog. Faith is so powerful. It’s a nice moment when we can stop and watch and listen to our children with pride, realizing it’s ok to let them go. Their lives won’t always be easy and they won’t always be happy, but hopefully they’ll come to realize that it’s love that will keep them resilient. Thanks Danny. Loved this.

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  3. Danny, this is beautiful. Your words remind me of Kahil Gibran’s writing on children, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” Your words are so full of love.

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  4. A wonderful blog post. I wish my mother had kept all my drawings (there must have been thousands of them). Jack is fortunate to have such a supportive family and I’d love to see his work. N.

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  5. I read this ending with the shared tears of a proud parent in my eyes! Jack is now his own man! His own artist! You and Patti gave him a fantastic foundation on which to build and create his life! Now it’s his responsibility!
    I think “next” will be outstanding! All the coming “nexts”! How exciting for you to be able to witness it! Thanks for sharing this bright star in your life with us! I love knowing him this way!

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  6. For me this is the deepest thing you have written and made me shed a tear. You have a wonderful relationship with your son and you must be very proud of each other.

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  7. I first met Jack as a young boy in your marvelous books, Danny. As I learned to draw my world, also, I followed Jack, you and Patti as you drew your world. I laughed, I cried, and I loved all three of you. When Patti died and you wrote “A Kiss Before You Go”, I bought it, too. But it sat on my shelf for six months. I could not even open it. Somehow as long as I did not read it, I could tell myself that you, Jack and Patti were still off there in NYC, safe and sound. But, I knew it was not true. Then one day my brave self took the book down and read the book. I cried on every page….not for sadness, but for the beauty you created in that lovely book. We have never met in person, but we are dear friends! Now I follow Jack the young man, Danny my mentor and our new family member, Jenny….who I love dearly. The same lovely soul essence that created the books that teach me, surrounded Baby Jack, saw him through tough times and joyous times. Thanks for sharing this milestone in Jack’s journey. Sending best wishes to him. ….yes, we are family…proud of him!

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  8. Yup! Spit em out and get outta the way…they have their own agenda. WOW stand back from the explosion!! You Go Jack.

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  9. I have no doubt that Jack is where he is mostly because he has a dad that has encouraged him and surrounded him with great love and support. There is no end to the things we can do when we have that blessing.

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  10. I only know you through your blog and books, but you strike me as a rather sensitive yet straight up fellow. You’ve made your mark on Jack. Now it is time to entrust him to the wider world knowing he is in very good hands.

    Isn’t it a beautiful and wondrous thing when one day we look at our children and realize they have also become our dear friends…

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  11. Since I read your books I just fell in love with you and your family. You are amazing, Patty was amazing, so your boy had to be amazing. Values are essential to teach your children respect and love. You are doing a great job. Jack will always be smart and unique and therefore, happy. 🙂

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  12. WordPress should have a ‘love’ button. Danny, your posts are often funny, thoughtful, thought provoking, interesting, and occasionally a bit off the wall. I always enjoy reading them. But this one I love.

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  13. Hi Danny I just discovered and follow your beautiful and great Blog! I am an artist too I love your sketches and your creative writings! This post is beautiful I am a mom and an artist I know how you feell Carolina

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  14. you say its beyond your influence but you should know that everything you have done for him and with him in the last 19 years will influence him for the rest of his life…sounds like you did okay by him. enjoy the proud…its a wonderful feeling.

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  15. Thank you. What a touching story. I too have been blessed with an artist I love most. My daughter Danielle. Who ironically just recently had her Senior show at RISD. I feel it has been such an honor to nurture and encourage and to witness the brilliant creative talent from my precious child.

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