I had another post planned for today. I’ve been fortunate to be in Italy for the past couple weeks with good friends. In fact, Dan Dos Santos and his wife Cristina were here with us. We have had an incredible experience and there has been no shortage of material for posts on Muddy Colors. I anticipate many of my future posts drawing upon the time spent in Italy.
I had an encounter today that I wanted to share first. It was something special and reminded me of the joy and privilege of creating art. My wife, Shari, and I were headed to the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome. *side note – modern art in Italy means up to 1900.
We were walking through the Villa Borghese park and came upon a man sitting by himself painting. I always like to see what artists are working on. I asked him if he was an artist and he nodded yes. I asked him what his name was and introduced myself. I am not sure but I think the man was partially mute or had a severe speech impediment. It was clear that his voice was very impeded. It sounded more like he was mumbling and only a word or two at a time, but his eyes were sharp and he appeared to clearly understand my mix of English and Italian.
The man had a very humble set up. He was using what looked like sign paint on both cardboard and a piece of dirty orange fabric. I think it was some kind of roadside emergency fabric because it had a reflective strip on the back. He had a pretty good variety of brushes. His painting was secured to a roller cart for groceries with some wire. He was holding a book about masterworks on his lap. He was currently working on a copy of Peter Paul Rubens The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt. From a technical standpoint, he wasn’t a great artist. But I found myself very moved that even with humble materials and ostensibly some real difficulties in his life, he still had the need and desire to create and study art. I asked if I could take some photos and he agreed.
His tools appeared to be well used, and he had what looked like an organized kit to paint with. I suspect he’s been doing this for quite a long time. This is all assumption on my part, of course but it sure looked like it. I sat down and showed him some of my work, and immediately felt a kinship with him. We were both artists and shared a love for art. I gave him some money, not knowing if he needed it or not (it looked like he could use it and he expressed gratitude) and went on my way. I will note that he didn’t have a hat or box out to accept money and none of his paintings were for sale. I do believe that he was there purely for the joy of painting and studying art that he loved.
As my wife and I walked away from the man we were both quiet, lost in contemplation of what we had seen and heard. I found tears running down my cheeks and when I looked over to my wife she was crying as well. We couldn’t help but be very moved. I have seen many masterpieces in museums over the last couple weeks and have been inspired by some of the greatest works of art ever created, but I think one of my strongest memories will be seeing this man sitting on the bench studying the old masters painting on cardboard and scavenged cloth. He is a student of Rubens, Rembrandt and other old masters.
It is a source of great joy to be an artist and I hope I never take it for granted. Not everyone is born into equal circumstances, not everyone has the same opportunities, but if you love art do what you need to do to create it.