Wednesday, September 9, 2009

All Guns Down

There is still talk of revolution. Each generation puts their twist on it. Ernesto and Gabrielle, present day road warriors remind us there is a lot more going on at street level than just exercising one’s right to free enterprise.

I first noticed him across the street on First Friday. He and his partner were selling jewelry out of their Ford Escort wagon. His chiseled Peruvian facial features and tussled black mane stood out amidst the crowd. Beyond that, my sixth sense detected more going on than what appeared on the surface. I watched a bit then went over to investigate. There were a few velvet covered boards of handcrafted earrings, necklaces, anklets and bracelets - unique stuff - marketable. Many stopped. They both worked on new designs as I poked around. I listened and watched. There was something refreshing about how they worked together. Amidst my second divorce, I’m sensitive to such things, wanting to experience the same for myself. They shared ideas on their designs pointing intimately to the others’ current work. With deftness, each wielded jeweler’s pliers.

I told them I worked across the street in the art gallery. We talked a bit about opportunity, free enterprise, and responsibility as citizens. Clearly, Ernesto liked that I engaged him. Excitedly, he preached of love, equality, a fair wage for a day’s work, collectivism. From Montreal, they were proponents of socialized medicine. We debated the pros and cons of capitalism, citizenship, misuse of power and our depraved nature as Homo sapiens. Ernesto was big on honesty and loyalty amongst brothers and lashed out at man’s propensity to abrogate their role in collective responsibility. Gabrielle came to life passionately espousing her position on a green economy; Pacha Mama – Mother Earth having only limited resources to sustain the creation.

Unencumbered by concern for means, living day to day out of their car, bending wire into jewelry, Ernesto and Gabrielle travel city to city. I could appreciate their journey, knowing myself the rigors of the road. If by chance you have forgotten what freedom looked like, this pair was art in action; walking art. I had been right; there was something about this guy and his gal. They were revolutionaries, itinerants preaching peace, unity and One Love.

Back in the gallery, I laughed to myself, thinking back on my days of radicalism. I didn’t realize how much I missed engaging at that level, being in that conversation. I was still hungry, I wanted more. I went back across the street and offered to make them dinner; they would think about it. An hour later Ernesto came back to see if the invite was for real; I prepared simple faire – fresh greens, red snapper over a Chinese noodles, seared broccoli florets with balsamic vinegar. Interestingly, as a young boy, even as an adult, I was often reprimanded for bringing strangers home for dinner. There is something about feeding the hungry. I once brought a homeless man home named Al Joseph Trueblood, an ex-felon. He stayed with me and my family for a week. My first wife, Valerie, was none too happy with this arrangement; our children were young, 3 and 5. My actions were considered reckless.

At 10:30, it became clear that it was too late to send the dynamic duo back out into the streets. I told them to spend the night in my bed. Gabrielle nearly cried out of joy. We talked well into the morning. Eventually the conversation turned to Communism. Ernesto was determined to convince me of what he considered the true meaning and ideal behind a communistic society. “Americans are brainwashed. True communism, the communism preached by che’Guevara, from the Cuban Revolution benefits us all. There is enough for all.” Passionately, as if life and the world depended on it, back and forth, like a tennis match, baseline to baseline, forehand to backhand, we voiced our positions; neither willing to let the other gain an inch. Gabrielle stretched across the bed enjoying the banter and the comfort of a dwelling.

Ernesto was an Idealist and I told him so. I reminded him of how many messengers of this same message had been killed. He didn’t bat an eye. “You can’t kill an idea! They can kill me, but my message will live on. They killed Malcolm X, Martin, Lennon and the Kennedy’s but their messages and ideals live on. I’m not afraid to die. I’m about peace and love. Love God above all things first and love your brothers and neighbors as you would love yourself.” And then he would raise his peace sign, always the peace sign.

The love between Ernesto and Gabrielle was clear. They wore each other like familiar garments. I envisioned them dying in each others’ arms, riddled with bullets having been hunted down by fundamentalist right wingers. I warned Ernesto that the American Capitalist would never lay down his weapon of choice. “We have exhausted our time of choice. The last minute comes soon! Like the spark of the revolution chasing after the powder, an awakening comes amidst the explosion. All will see that we must be one or we will perish as humankind; no unity - no life.” Like water over a waterfall, the oil of Ernesto’s poetry flowed never ending. I warned Gabrielle; against such charisma she was powerless. She only smiled that Gabrielle smile.

And then, in an instant, the light bulb of clarity shone brightly. I heard my own words – “lay down his weapon of choice.” Off and on, throughout the day and evening, I had wondered why these two had shown up, for what purpose had my Creator sent them across my path? I had only to be patient and remain open. It was clear; the appearance of Ernesto and Gabrielle was a reminder of what’s real and what’s not. Love and life is real. Choice is real. Art is real!

Back in February, Jon Eckel and I showed 23 paintings, in Princeton, New Jersey. Painted jointly as a collaboration, the body of work entitled All Guns Down, touted a message not too dissimilar from the one preached by che’Ernesto. Jon and I were convinced, we need only lay aside our weapons of defense, our selfishness, self interests, self indulgence and we could paint an epic body of work. This doctrine holds true across the board, in all venues, from government through to our personal relationships. Prioritizing a mutually beneficial goal, seeking the best interest of another and putting all available resources behind your efforts are paramount to a successful equation. Like the notion of equality, unity and oneness preached by che’Ernesto, All Guns Down, requires of humankind a higher way of being.

In October ’09 Jon moved temporarily from Philadelphia to Princeton. We had been given the use of a monster house to live in, with a carriage house in the back that served as our studio. For 3 1/2 months, we painted night and day; some days 14 and 16 hours. Throwing caution to the wind, we challenged ourselves to a higher order, painting beyond our comfort zones desiring a third emerging signature from our divergent painting styles; Jon a figurist - myself an abstractionist. We were two very different cats with a similar goal - wanting desperately to get to the finish line; like our very lives depended on it. That was the goal. Twenty three paintings later, we set our brushes down. When the dust settled, we knew we had stumbled on a truth: Prioritize the goal, set aside the differences and all things are possible.

In our collaboration exercise bridging generation and culture, we overcame age differences, ethnicity, differences in religion and demographics. Jon is a trained painter graduating from Tyler School of Art, myself an untrained outsider artist. Trusting the others commitment to the task, believing in all that is good, we were able to overcome the stumbling blocks that have historically shipwrecked the best altruistic efforts. There are no safety nets, no excuses and no short cuts, just the task at hand. There must be a point where our beliefs and convictions fuel the intent and purpose behind our actions. What are you willing to lay down for the greater good?

“The paintings writhe with vibrant jolts of color, line, texture, and bold restive figures. Intimate and provocative themes are by turns poignant, comical, dark and mysterious. Despite strong content and an “in your face” palette, the imagery is approachable and inviting. Musically, the paintings strike a complex, soulful and “saxy” note; with an aggressive tenor and persistent “bottom.” Overcoming initial concerns of clashing independent styles, melding form and abstraction, a confident and resolute harmony prevails; the two painters have become one in these paintings” Ebet Dudley, Writer-Critic

Click the link to see the remaining paintings