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  The Beginning Years

"The edge of nowhere is the center of my easel"

Carroll is "The No Kitsch Artist" from Pennsylvania.


2021 © BELL-C


"I suppose my best attribute, if you want to call it that, is sincerity.

I can sell sincerity because that's the way I am."

John Wayne, "Duke" 


​​​​​The Blue


Paul Hogan: "That's a knife!"

¡También es ORO AZUL!

​«Теперь это нож!»

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​"That first step was SEVEN stories long.

I leaned backwards 'til I was airborne with an unfamiliar pilot at the yoke.

"Seven bungee jumps sealed the deal. I looked outward to my life changing goals at the far corner of the cushion below. Retreat with my tail between my legs and go back down the tower? No. I jumped off the bungee tower 7 stories, 7x's.

At 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 our star spangled send off with fireworks shooting toward us from diamonds on a necklace from Dallas to Philly. At 33,000' I had a spectacular window seat view, neat, blended smoky Scotch in hand.

"I shaved before we landed. We touched down in Madrid (MAD) about 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?  

"Boy Howdy. At 9:30 AM the bus snorted to a stop, burped once or twice, and my feet scuffed down shiny 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 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. That was his first story? I saw writing on the wall.

"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.

"I struggled with sketching perspective, then cautiously, carefully, meticulously painted using ochre, cerulean blue, sap and viridian 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 short years before ...

"Right BEFORE I came to Dallas, Texas, as I walked along Ben Franklin Parkway toward Eakins Oval, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I noticed the sky is blue - warm and sunny - and trees are green. I hadn't known what green looked like. Nor had I seen blue. In cowboy country I saw the heavenly palette of color ...

"Paco beckoned with rugged, swollen carver's hands, clutching 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. His 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 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 asked the next morning. I'd kept the larger part (above) and re-signed it a second time;  THE PAIR could be one of the biggest, brightest trophies in art history's collection, or your bank vault.

"By the way, Paco's flower-loving lady created the floral arrangements in the myriad vases I painted. Paco implored this was an important discipline to always keep my hands and my wrists loose. Well, OK then. (She took most of the photos of me and Paco in Spain that hot, dry summer.) I married the woman's daughter, who left for greener pastures. I saw that coming from only one mile away. When my wife left for another man, in my micro-mousey cursive, I penned on the back of my last painting made in Spain, the essence of what I desired for my sunset years. It won't matter if I retire and never paint again. That is one of two things on my list! Ditat Deus!

"One night after dinner, so at about midnight, Paco opened a book of his friend Picasso's stains and traced the brushwork with his fingers as he explained how the icon had made them. He hadn't read about it in a book. He'd been there - with Picasso. It was a precociously rare art history experience sustained few others!

August 23rd. "Let's jump to the end. Paco, his aristocat lady friend, and I stood together as the oily, black exhaust of a creaking bus swept past the 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.

I scaled the bungee tower at Walnut Hill thrice more, blindfolded from the bottom each time, as a victory dance after I got back to Dallas, Texas—Alcaraz had dined with me along Cedar Springs (near Rosewood Court) in Mid-May, 1994. That Dallas supper was where he saw my purple thistles and, on the spot, urged me to come to his atelier in Spain so he could release and refine my success that summer. I had no idea what it would cost. All I know is I did it."

​​"Flying lead changes are fundamental in painting, poetry, and polo.

Probably in table tennis and basketball, too."  - ​ Carroll