20" x 16" oil on canvas
Trabuco General Store
12" x 16" oil on linen board
Free Falls 1
16" by 12" oil on canvas
Low Tide, Crystal Cove
20" x 20" oil on canvas
48" x 36" oil on canvas
On Giverny Pond
16" by 20" oil on canvas
There's a line in an old Bob Dylan in an old song that goes
… he not busy being born is busy dying.
That line echoed in my mind as I retired at the end of 2018. I decided then that I would waste no time in unpacking the oil paints and brushes I had put away almost a decade earlier in the face of our growing family needs, needs centered around our younger daughter Julie, afflicted with Rett Syndrome. Well then, I thought, a portrait of Julie in oils would become the first test of my “revival”.
I first began to dabble in art at the age of eight, drawing figures from the front pages of the New York Daily News. While a young student growing up in Brooklyn, my art teachers encouraged me to pursue a degree in Fine Arts, but more practical considerations prevailed -- like how to pay my bills! Instead, I eventually obtained a graduate degree in health services administration. About mid-way through my forty-year career, I followed my intuition – a hunch really -- to revive my artwork to something more than what it had become: mere doodles on the margins of my notepads at work. I bought some paints and brushes.
It’s been said that experience is the best education -- and sometimes the most expensive. My life experience has taught me that it is a privilege to have both the skill and freedom to create any work of art and an honor to have that art on exhibit for others to appreciate.
Julie can speak, but only with her eyes. Our daughter has Rett Syndrome. I finally mustered the courage to paint a portrait of her, my first serious attempt at portraiture. She sees the painting every day on the stairway wall as she rides the stairlift to and from her bedroom. "That's you, Julie", I tell her as we pass the painting, and her eyes linger on it for a special moment.
It seemed that time stood still as Padraic and I stepped out of the car in front of the iron gate and stood looking at the old house. It had been forty-five years since I had last seen this house, the same length of time since I had seen cousin Padraic himself. It was the family reunion that had brought us together at long last in Leitrim County, Ireland.
They changed the roof, I said. The new owners had replaced the old thatched roof with some kind of corrugated sheet metal. Now the old house had the look of abandonment.
Can we go up and take a look?
I don’t see why not, said Padraic. Doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Ah sure, noone would mind anyway.
And so the two of us strode up the lane, our shoes squishing in the soggy grass – dress shoes they were as we had just come from Uncle John’s funeral. A flood of memories cast its spell. This was the childhood home of Padraic’s mom and mine. A family of ten lived in that house – three rooms and a fireplace and a few kerosene lamps. This is the farm my mom had taken my two sisters and me to visit when I was four years old so that she could see her father one last time. After leaving dad at the dock in New York, we had taken a ship, then a train, then a car to get here. We looked around in bewilderment when we finally arrived. To me, a kid accustomed to playing on the sidewalks of the Bronx, the farm looked to be the loneliest place on earth. Almost a full year we had lived in that house, while dad stayed home to keep his night job at the Tip Top Bakery.
And so some of my earliest memories are rooted in this farm: warming ourselves by the fireplace, the cow birthing a calf, my grandfather killing a chicken, mom and us kids cleaning out the chicken for our Christmas feast, waiting for the postman to deliver a letter from dad, wandering alone in the fields. These were the gifts for my formative years.
Padriac walked ahead of me up the lane. I snapped a picture. Right there near the tree was the spot the donkey collapsed, and my 80-year-old grandfather lifted it back up to its feet. He was a crotchety old guy. I once saw him pouring salt into a bloody wound on his hand after a slip of the axe.
Let’s stop a minute, said Padraic. Let’s stop and shake hands right here and remember that we are on sacred ground, he said solemnly. “Ah, you’re killing me, Padraic”, I said, though I shared his sense of wonder and returned his Irish handshake with a California hug. We were soul brothers now.
That’s Padraic walking up the lane, based on the reference photo I took, though relatives say he was and is younger and better looking than I depicted. I agree.
My paintbrush restored the old thatched roof.
Inspired by Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan
Excerpt of Lyrics:
And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you.
~ Bob Dylan
Walking on the beach in Dana Point, CA, I saw this young boy splashing along the shore in his street clothes. I then saw the lady sitting back on the sand, watching him. I introduced myself, and she gave me permission to snap a couple of photos of her son for my next painting. My camera caught him in a moment of reverie, and it became the reference for this painting. Pure spontaneity — his shoes soaking wet.