The bullfight….controversial, yes, but an event that is woven within the fabric of Spanish culture. My wife went to a bullfight several years ago in Sevilla and didn’t enjoy it, but I have to say, I do appreciate the flair that goes into it. I’m also fascinated by the elegant dress and bright colors of the bullfighter’s clothing, and enjoy the color contrasts between the sandy ground, the black bull, and the matador!
I’ve been going through my photos from the Peace Corps a lot lately and finding inspirations for paintings. In 2008 I took a little weekend vacation “with the boys” to Puerto Viejo, Limon, on the southern Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This is may favorite place in Costa Rica. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica seems to be less visited by tourists, yet I find it much more appealing. I think it’s prettier and enjoy the Caribbean culture more. Reggae music, jerk chicken, coconut rice and beans, slow pace, patua language (a mixture of English, Spanish and French)…
Anyways, we were hanging out and walking along the water one evening and I got this picture of a boy kicking his soccer ball along with a big fish in his hand. I think this shows a slower-paced lifestyle; go fishing, walk along the beach, play a little soccer…
I just finished it today –
It’s an acrylic on a 6″ by 6″ Ampersand artist panel.
As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, from 2006 to 2008, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica in a Community Economic Development program. While I was living with my host family in 2007, we took a rare weekend trip from our home in La Cruz de Abangares, Monteverde, to my host-mother’s niece’s house on the Pacific coast in Nosara, Guanacaste. This was my host-mother’s first trip to the beach in her whole life (she was in her late 30’s)! We were all excited to be going to the beach, almost as if we were going to one of the tourist resorts or something. I’m surprised we even made it there and back with the condition the car was in! Turned out that her niece was poorer than we were. They lived in a small wooden house that I would rank right above a shack. There were about 6 people living there, with a mean dog tied up on the side of the house, not too far from the outhouse, and a loud rooster outside to wake us up in the morning. And it was HOT. I think we planned staying 3 nights but ended up staying 2. We had a decent time and did go to the beach, but we were just too many people in that house and it wasn’t too comfortable. Anyways, there was a big field across from the house full of mango and star fruit trees. One afternoon I got this nice picture of her niece’s toddler outside checking out a carton of fresh mangos on the front patio. The other day I remembered this picture and thought it’d make a nice painting!
I think this makes a great piece for anybody who appreciates the innocence of babies and toddlers. If you’ve traveled to or worked in tropical countries, this type of housing may look familiar to you, and I’m sure the mangos do as well!
This past weekend my wife, a friend and I went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, an annual festival whose goal is to strengthen and preserve diverse, authentic, living traditions – both old and new. This year has 3 focuses – Rythm and Blues, the Peace Corps (it’s their 50th anniversary) and the culture of Colombia.
I was interested in all three – I like r&b, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, and I wanted to learn more about the rich culture of Colombia.
Los Viajes del Viento
A few months ago I saw a Colombian movie called “Los Viajes del Viento” (The Wind Journeys), about a vallenato singer who spent his life travelling the villages of northern Colombia playing vallenato songs on his accordion, which is said to have been cursed by the devil. After his wife’s sudden death, he swears to never play his accordion again, and begins a journey across the vast Colombian terrain with his young pupil Ferman, to return the accordion to its rightful owner. Along the way, they are enveloped in the musical diversity of Caribbean culture in Colombia.
It’s a really good movie and seems to me to be very authentic, although I have to admit that I’ve never been to Colombia. I really liked seeing the beauty of vallenato music and dance.
“The vallenato music, as it is known today, is said to have been influenced by a combination of African, European, and Colombian rhythm and folkloric sounds. At first, native people from Valle de Upar played their music with flutes called gaitas made of bamboo and African drums made of hollow wood with goat skins secured by wooden rings and strings.
It is estimated that a century after the invention of the accordion in 1829, Europeans introduced the German Hohner accordion to the northern coast of Colombia where it was primarily used to play European music. Fortunately, the famous German instrument, now most commonly known as the acordeón vallenato, found its way to Valle de Upar where it was adopted as part of the vallenato folklore. According to vallenato historian Tomás D. Gutiérrez Hinojosa (1992: Cultura vallenata: origen, teoría y pruebas ), the European accordion migrated to Valle de Upar not to create music but to be physically and culturally transformed by the vallenato musician so that it can be used to interpret the different vallenato styles.
I Walked Right into my Inspiration for a Painting
Lucky for us, we were walking around the Colombia section and happened onto a spontaneous vallenato performance! This vallenato was without the accordion – only a gaita (flute made of bamboo), African drums and dancers. I snapped some photos, knowing that it would make a really cool painting. Check these out:
I have a few paintings in line to be completed before I start the vallenato ones, but I’m going to do 2 or 3 vallenato-themed oil paintings this summer.
Here is the finished oil painting entitled “Heaven Shining Through.” Our family friend Jorn took a photo of the sunrise when climbing the Aconcagua mountain in Argentina, from which this painting is based. I was very impressed by the photo and felt that it’d make a great painting, so here it is!
When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, I climbed Mount Chirripó and saw some really amazing views, but this one of Aconcagua is just something else. Has anyone else done mountain climbing and seen views like this?
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been writing about the “Catcher in the Rye” custom oil painting I’ve been working on for Jeff, a client of mine. It’s called “Facing the Storm.” Alas, I have the completed pictures and story behind the art!
The Scene from the book…
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
How it relates personally…
Although I’ve given some explanation into the meaning of this painting, I’d like to reveal a bit more. When Jeff was a child, his father gave him this book. On the front cover, he wrote a note – “Jeff, I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.” “We” referred to his Dad’s girlfriend at the time. Jeff still has the book his Dad gave him; it’s actually the same one I read before starting this painting. Anyways, the book made a significant impression on Jeff, since the main character – Holden Caulfield – reminded him strongly of his Dad. Jeff’s parents divorced when he was young. His Dad, who was a drug addict, became increasingly absent from his life starting in high school. Several years later came a permanent absence – he committed suicide.
In his own words – Jeff describes his father’s last night
“I like to imagine that, on the night before he took his life, my father went to a seedy dive bar for his last hits. His sandy colored hair was unkempt and balding in places that only bald after years of mental anguish. His jacket was dirty and hanging loosely around frail bones, the kind of frailness that only comes from many injections of abuse. His blue eyes, though, were friendly. One side of his lips curled up into a strange but open smile. His face was shining, though it was probably the kind of brightness that comes from two lights in constant tension, one always threatening to overcome the other, each frustrated by the shadows they cause. Taking a stool, he saddled up to the bar and tried to explain himself in the words of my favorite song.
“Bartender, you see, the wine that’s drinking me, comes from the vine that strung Judas from the devil’s tree, its roots deep in the ground.”
Nodding sympathetically, the bartender asked him if he had any kids.
“Two sons,” he answered. “I was close with them when they were boys, but we began losing touch when they got to high school. Now they are in college, and I never speak with them.”
Slowly, the bartender nodded again.
At this point, this virtual stranger gave my dad some of the most honest words he had had in his life. “Your youngest son is getting ready to be a young professional in our nation’s capitol, one of the only cities in the world where he is free to become who he is meant to be. He will be wildly successful. Your oldest is getting ready for graduate school, reading and writing in ways that you could never have imagined. He will spend his career helping other people keep the wine from drinking them too badly. Sir, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have done a fine job.”
The next night, the darkest of his life, my father held a gray blade and wondered about the bartender’s words. How could it be that, after all the pain and struggle he caused himself and his family, he had done a fine job of raising his sons? Then some final truth dawned on him. Love is not good, simple, and pure. This does not mean that it is its opposite, because neither is love some demon that needs to be exorcised. Always and everywhere, love is both brilliantly optimistic and incomprehensibly execrable. Struggling like every parent does to put it together in just this way, my dad was able to perfectly raise his two children.
Now that my dad’s eyes are closed for good, I realize my own truth, that God did not do this to me. I am not so sure that God does anything at all. Instead, our doomed but bright star allows us to watch, on the clearest twilights, how it must always set. The best thing for us to do is let it go, especially on that one ultimate day when the sun cataclysmically vanishes into itself. Because even on that chilling day, somewhere in the seemingly infinite darkness, two lights will struggle to be seen as one. The first will flicker for understanding, and the other will gradually, painstakingly, start to beam for renewed hope.”
adding our custom touches to the interpretation…
Although Holden Caulfield’s vision of being the Catcher in the Rye is very descriptive, Jeff and I took that vision and added in a few more features that relate to his own story.
Most prominently, his Dad took the place of Holden Caulfield on the cliff. Jeff gave me several photographs of his Dad, which I used to paint a figure resembling him on the cliff. In the painting, he’s catching and saving a child who is running off of the cliff.
Down below in the valley, you’ll notice someone walking towards the storm. That figure represents Jeff himself, as Jeff’s Dad never was able to “catch” him.
The changing skyskape, from bright and cheery to dark, stormy and dangerous, is also Jeff’s idea. You’ll notice that the darker side is the side by the cliff, where Jeff’s Dad is.
I added the lush blue rivers that run through the mountains and valley until they abruptly come to an end at a split in the earth.
I’m happy to say that Jeff is very pleased with this painting! He says that it’s very therapeutic for him, and although it depicts a dreary side of his family’s past, he feels peaceful when looking at it. It was a pleasure to make a painting for someone that carries so much meaning!
I came across this photo on Facebook last night of my former students Brad and Itxel, in traditional Guanacaste dress, standing in front of the mural I painted of a Guanacaste man and woman in traditional dress! A few months ago several of my former students got on Facebook all of a sudden after the school was able to get a computer lab. I can’t hardly believe it…before that, only a few families in town even had a computer, never mind the internet. I painted this in 2007 when I was a Community Economic Development Advisor with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. I lived with Brad’s grandmother’s family my first several months in La Cruz, so we saw each other often outside of school. Itxel lived down the street, and was in my English and Junior Achievement classes (and soccer games). They look like they’re ready to go to a fiesta típica and dance to some marimba! Except for the mean faces. People don’t seem to smile too much in pictures in Costa Rica….in reality, these kids were smiling and laughing all the time. I think Brad is trying to imitate his grandfather Hernan, who always looks like that. The camera incorrectly dated the picture 2003, it was actually taken in 2010.
I’ve been meeting with Jeff Lynhurst a few times over the past couple of weeks to get feedback about the “Catcher in the Rye” painting I’m working on for him. This has been a new type of custom-art making experience for me, as usually someone just gives me a photo and I turn it into art. Which has always worked out just fine, and my clients have always really enjoyed the art they’ve gotten. However, Jeff didn’t give me a photo; he gave me a book to read (The Catcher in the Rye) and his story.
Jeff had selected about 20 pages for me to read that explained the scene he wanted painted, but I decided to read the whole book anyways. I think reading the entire book helped me to get a better vision for the feeling of the painting. It was a sad, pessimistic, sort of hopeless feeling. After sketching my idea onto paper, Jeff and I talked more about the vision he had, so I made a few adjustments and began work on the canvas. As I progressed in the painting, I’d email Jeff photos to get his input. This was his painting after all, and I wanted to make sure he was getting what he envisioned!
Brigitta (my wife) and I have had Jeff over a few times over the past few weeks as well, to talk, have a beer, and see the painting in person to make sure it was coming along to his liking. Jeff actually has kept telling me that he doesn’t want to deter my “artistic” vision, and to paint it how I see fit. However, I know how important this is to him, and I know he’s just trying to be nice since he tried working with another artist before on this, and the guy was really intent on doing it his way. Not surprisingly, that didn’t work out. So I’ve been trying to encourage him to have an open mic and speak freely about what he wants, likes, and doesn’t like in the painting.
I’ve gone back a few times to make some adjustments after speaking with Jeff, especially with the dark sky. It wasn’t dark or dangerous enough for him…in fact, I re-did the whole darker half of the sky. I suppose that since I didn’t have the same type of experience as him, I couldn’t feel inside of me what he felt inside of him, and that translated into my initial version of the sky. So it’s been good to keep going back and forth with Jeff.
Instead of painting Holden Caulfield (the main character of The Catcher in the Rye) on the cliff, Jeff had me paint his Dad. He wanted his Dad to be trying to catch a child that would be running to jump off of the cliff. I couldn’t make an exact replica of him since he had to be smaller to align proportionally with the scenery, but I assured Jeff that what I painted would resemble his Dad. My first attempt (which Jeff told me definitely resembled his Dad), showed him stretching his arms out to the child, but it left some doubt as to whether he would actually catch him or not. After seeing this, Jeff decided he wanted his Dad to actually be catching the child, so I painted over it to show that he would indeed be catching the child.
This was the last part of the painting that I did the other day, so it’s now complete (pending Jeff’s final approval). We’re going to meet up again soon to take the painting over to his place. He’s going to have it in his home for a few days and let his feelings and thoughts marinate, then decide if there’s anything else that needs to be done. If so, I’ll make the adjustment, and if not, we’ll be done!
So sometime soon I’ll post pictures of the completed “Catcher in the Rye” painting, along with details of Jeff’s personal story and how this has been a therapeutic process for him.
Just have to add some more depth with the rye, make the sky a bit darker and more dangerous-looking, and add in the main character (possibly my client’s father, in this case), on the cliff. Until then, here’s what it looks like right now!