Holding hands with my eleven-year-old daughter, Sammi, as we walked along the sidewalk earlier this week, my husband and older daughter just ahead of us, I saw bright colored paintings in the window of an art gallery ahead. The Atlantic Ocean to our left going dark and choppy under a setting sun, I called ahead, “Hey, look! Can we go in there and check it out?”
Sammi scampered in ahead of me and immediately said, “Woah!” The gallery was full of the bright colors of several painters working in primary palettes. Big multi-hued dogs and other animals covered one wall, and my daughters immediately spread around the space to look more closely. I started on one side, wandered, admired, turned around, and brought myself back to a particular wall covered by paintings and prints by one particular artist named Fabio Napoleoni. I was drawn to a series with a small mummy-like character — equal parts maudlin and endearing, and always holding a red, misshapen heart. That little character had many small adventures, all involving that heart:
I’m not a horror film person — not into scary critters or zombies or anything like that — and most of the art in my house is in subdued earth tones. In fact, much of the character in my house actually comes from my having hung stringed instruments on my walls in lieu of traditional art. Somehow, though, I was drawn to these paintings and the characters in them — the little creature and his birds, his funny little heart — and in particular, to several of the paintings that, inexplicably, contained a little red-headed girl who Sammi, now standing next to me to look at the paintings that had attracted me, immediately nicknamed Clementine after the girl in her favorite book series:
The little girl in these paintings has a little window on her chest. I looked more closely, and one of the gallery assistants stopped next to me to talk.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” she asked. “Do you know about this artist?”
“No, I don’t,” I said. “Do you know him?”
“No,” she laughed. “But I can tell you about him. He has a little daughter who was born with a heart defect. When she was a baby and so sick, he started to draw this little man. Sweet, isn’t it?”
The little man in his paintings, I learned, was named Marcenivo. In an interview for Style No Chaser, Napoleoni says, “Marcenivo was created during the time spent with my daughter while she was in the hospital recovering from surgeries. I wanted to create a character that I could easily relate to. I was looking to create a worn down tattered doll to basically represent how I was feeling. It was only fitting that his side kick be his heart.”
I thought back, in that moment, to the times I sat vigil in a hospital room next to Sammi as she recovered from cardiac surgery, the clothing around me rumpled and stained, my vision narrowed into a single field that included only Sammi and the machines monitoring her. I saw, in Marcenivo, some of myself and my husband. I saw the ever-present heart — his, mine, Sammi’s, the world’s — and I knew that I needed to own some of Fabio Napoleoni’s work.
I called my husband over and showed him the paintings, then told him about the artist. We agreed that this was just too beautiful — and too perfect — for us to pass by. Eventually, we chose to marry the three concepts that have bound our hearts to Sammi’s: the images we cannot shake, the words on which I so rely to describe our experiences, and the destination for this painting — our kitchen — where I have spent so many hours desperately trying to feed my child back to health. This painting is on its way back to our home now. It’s our first by this kindred artist. It won’t be our last.
Note: all of these paintings are linked directly to the artist’s site or to a gallery that represents him. I don’t own the rights to any of them. Please do not share these without proper attribution.