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"I took a paintbrush into a gunfight. I'm a Philly boy who loves Georgia and Texas.
I observe hummingbirds. At 2x's the weight of a 50 Cal bullet one bird chases away THE enemy. Aim high. Win!"
NOW "… THAT's a knife!"
- Crocodile Dundee
Locked into insecurity, this diehard
scientific introvert with a gift that was soon to be unlocked ... "Blue skies always meant freedom, but how would I muster the courage to study under Alcaraz in Spain? The ongoing battle within men and between countries meant I had to choose between my desire for safety and authentic freedom. My toes anchored me to the edge of the bungee platform with a stretchy cord attached to my waist. That first step was seven stories long. I leaned over backwards to watch an inbound blue, red, and yellow jet lining up on Love Field, until I was airborne with an unfamiliar pilot at the yoke. I found courage in free fall, in the final to land in Spain. Nuts! I was never just an artist." True story.
Day #1 in Spain, July 5th 1994. to gird my courage I jumped off a bungee tower 7x's. At the Dallas airport I was advised to cash a traveler's check for pesetas before departure. As I stood in the queue I realized that my checks and passport were in my zippered travel pouch beneath my belt and tucked-in shirt, above my rump. That led to a fine young lady spotting me in seat 22B as she came down the aisle, and saying, "Oh no, it's you," but, that is another story! Anyway, I'd marveled at my star spangled send off with fireworks shooting toward us from baseball diamonds lining our route from Dallas to Philly. At 33,000' we had a spectacular view. It was Independence Day.
The morning of July 5th we touched down in Madrid (MAD) at sunrise. I deplaned with my backpack, day pack, paints, brushes, and 10 quartered sheets of watercolour paper and was greeted with my teacher's pair of welcoming cheek kisses and an "abrazo." So, off to the bus terminal we scurried, led by "Paco" (Don Francisco Alcaraz), as I knew him, and his aristocratic Brazilian lady friend. All of our stops were unplanned along a few hours of highway lined with armed, military green clad, Guardias Civiles. The red hillsides reminded me of my bicycle racing days in Georgia. The high of 7 bungee jumps a few days before waxed and waned as my adventure really took off. I did not view art as a career choice at any previous time, nor did I in Spain. It was a thrill. You know, just drop everything and go. Art? I am value-driven, always seeking at least a 10X ROI for my clients, a target you can chart and measure. I'm pragmatic.
ONWARD: At 9:30 AM the bus snorted to a stop, belched once or twice, and my feet scuffed down metal steps onto the hard red clay in my 6-ounce racing flats. Oh boy! Or, "Boy howdy" as I had learned to say in Texas (We'd said say, "Sheesh" in Pennsylvanian).
Why make it easy to learn something new? Paco didn't speak English. I'd taken art 101 in 7th grade, art appreciation in 11th grade, and I didn't know diddly about my teacher. My last Spanish class was 22 years before. That about sums it up.
His Brazilian friend said Paco was an orphan at seven and at nine was the youngest in hundreds of years to be admitted to a prestigious art school. I was half listening. She added that he had labored diligently on his first assignment for two weeks to win the applause of his esteemed teacher. When Paco presented his "gem" to the great man it unceremoniously exploded into the air and crashed into the hungry flames of the atelier fireplace. His teacher knew the genius of his student and brought it into the open. The story made me nervous. That was his first story?
We walked into town on a dirt road past rustic adobes and skirted an ancient Catholic church, on Calle Alcaraz! At 10:00 AM (UTC +1), my first painting lesson began. "He wants you to watch what he does and do it," his England-schooled multilingual (5 languages) friend told me. Painting #1 (above, but intentionally mislabeled #3 on the back) was of Paco's favorite landscape, the sole reason why he bought the Medieval shepherd's adobe in the foothills of a ski resort ... what a spectacular view. It was 105° F and I was hung over with a bad case of jet lag. I fought on. It was time for the truth.
I struggled with sketching perspective, then cautiously, carefully, meticulously painted using ochre, cerulean blue, viridian and sap green - Hey, that's what I had on my paint tray ... And she said, "He wants me to tell you that there are more than two colors of green, and to stand at the balcony looking down at that sapling until you tell him how many colours of green you see." Twenty minutes later, to end the miasma, I blurted "at least 1,000." Paco was satisfied and I dodged another minute of blurry pain. But ten years before ...
Right BEFORE I came to Dallas, Texas, I was surprised to hear a man I respected state that I had not killed my sister. As I walked along Ben Franklin Parkway toward Eakins Oval, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs (Made doubly famous by Mr. T and Rocky), I saw that the sky was blue --- warm and sunny --- and trees are truly green. I didn't know what green looked like. I had no idea I was color blind and cried with delight. Then, I met the Perfecter in Texas. Onward ...
Paco beckoned with one rugged, swollen carver's hand, the other clutched my beautiful landscape. The lady's thick Brazilian accent intoned, "He wants you to follow him." I did. In his workshop (an "atelier") I felt the crisp slap of a cold, aged, metal ruler on the face of my first masterpiece. An unfolded blue pocketknife surgically bisected my painting in one short, quick stroke. He pivoted in the doorway and returned to finish an oleo on the second story balcony. And, his lady friend said, "He wants you to know you have two paintings. Go fix them." I didn't know the summer sun could be so hot. I buried the smaller piece in a waste basket, thinking he wouldn't ask about it. He did the next morning. I'd kept the nicer, larger part (above) and re-signed the memento.
One night after dinner, so at about midnight, Paco opened a book of his friend Picasso's stains and traced the brush strokes with his fingers as he explained how the icon made them. It was a religious experience, better than a campfire tale with four wolves following you ten feet away on a remote logging trail in a moon-blinding fog ... When suddenly out of the underbrush ...
Many stories to share. Let's jump to the end. Paco, his lady friend, and I stood together as the oily, black exhaust of a creaking bus swept past our highway marker. As I climbed the shiny balding steps, the lady said, "An artist is born." Like a proud papa, Paco handed me his blue pocketknife. Glancing from my starboard window I saw he was crying. It was more than a right of passage ... AND was more than art for art sake. I attack problems, and painting became a superb way to keep a pictorial memoir that clarifies your message for competitive advantage. I use time wisely.
Ask me about the warm, sunny day Alcaraz shouted "HORRIBLE!!!" and smashed through the balcony door of his quaint abode. Apparently he wasn't pleased with my experimentation. I was dovetailing my strengths and planning victory over weaknesses. I wasn't just an artist - but I sure can paint red skies at night (Pop loved to sail in the Northwoods). Poppy had an amazing knack for solving problems very, very quickly. He knew how to hire, and fire, and loved to work, adroitly. He excelled at everything he touched and expected virtuosity! My less-than-linear cv filled in the gaps.