Journal Page Highlight: The Lost Boy

Michelle Casey, "Lost Boy", Collage in progress, July 2011

Michelle Casey, "Lost Boy", Collage in progress, July 2011

Today, I’d like to share some thoughts about a page I sort of … well, “lost”.  As much as I wanted to include it in my current series of works in the Atrium Show, it won’t be there.  Sometimes a precious page may be ruined when it gets glued down in an awkward fashion or when I accidentally rip a magazine fragment the wrong way.  As hard as I try (and believe me I do!) to fix it, I just can’t – so a collage ends up being “lost” to me.  Fortunately, I had the good sense to photograph this one, so you can still see it. 

This fugitive page was very much like the boy, my brother, who inspired it.  Some pages take a long time to reveal themselves to me; others seem to develop themselves almost effortlessly in my hands – this one was like the latter.  I’d been collecting images of young men that resembled aspects of my brother for some time and was lucky to find a few series of magazine photographs of young men I felt might work well.  A couple were even posed in the precise religious manner I had envisioned.  One image in particular of a handsome young man dramatically kneeling in prayer caught my eye; that, coupled with an image of a Venetian painting by Rococo artist Canaletto, a row of pews from an old church, some ominous clouds and a graffiti fragment, I felt, created the perfect backdrop for my page.  Through this idealized surrogate version of my brother I hoped to reveal a little more about his fate.

If you’ve seen my Pieces of Me I and II portfolios, you’ll notice that religious iconography plays an important role in my visual language: churches, wings, doves, halos, stars, nun’s habits, lambs, etc. all allude to my spiritual upbringing.  My mixed British/Portuguese East Indian heritage is steeped in Roman Catholic tradition that goes back centuries.  Like my parents and theirs before, my sisters and I were christened after the saints.  My brother, Francis Gerald Serrao, was no exception.  Named after each of his grandfathers as well as the infamous patron saint of Goa, St. Francis Xavier, his religious destiny was ensured.  While she was expecting, my mother, a devout Catholic, prayed that one day her son would follow in the footsteps of his missionary namesake.  Confused, virtually fatherless from a young age* and suffering from the lack of a stable male role model in his life, Frank turned out to be quite the opposite of a saint… he turned out to be like the rest of us mortals, quite imperfect… struggling to survive in a world that seemed harsh.  By 20 he had fathered two children, became estranged from his girlfriend and was drowning in financial debt.  Although he tried in his own way to make these situations better, he failed miserably.  In his early 20’s, like many young men in this hopeless situation, he attempted to escape his problems by fleeing to Toronto to find work, perhaps start over and leave behind old painful ghosts.  After a year or so, he mysteriously stopped communicating with us.  We tried to locate his whereabouts, but found no trace of him.  Was my brother lost or dead?  The question still torments me.  For the past decade, when a young man is found dead or shot in the area he was last known to be (Brampton, Ontario), I envision his lifeless body.  His image haunts my dreams… my dream journal contains a number of nightmares about his imaginary demise.  Some of these I’ve translated into journal pages (March 16, 2010, February 23, 2010)… I’ve even made a new page for the Atrium Show “Lost Souls, Part I” based on yet another dream of him. 

Frank Serrao about eleven years old

Frank Serrao about eleven years old

For a time I was very close to Frank… we did everything together… he showed great promise as an artist; he had a sensitive soul.  Often I wonder if we’ll ever find him.  I wonder too, if he wants to be found.  Like my journal page of him, he has slipped from my grasp…

*My father suffered from cancer most of my brother’s childhood; he died when Frank was eleven years old.

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