The Easel on the Beach
by Jose Recio
I flew at night, from the wealthy Hollywood Hills to the proud Pico Isabel de Torres in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Leave L.A., Audrey, and go to an exotic place to nourish your artistic talent, my friend Debbie had said. I admired her artistic ability and doubted mine. Even before we completed our master’s in Visual Arts last year, I knew I wouldn’t get too far as a painter. I followed Debbie's advice, though, and left for the Island.
I woke up at sunrise to the ocean murmur, a gentle breeze, and the squawking of seagulls filtering through the opened balcony; a pleasant first morning awakening on the island. I stood barefoot on the balcony. A green and blue vastness extended throughout space, waves swayed in-and-out over the white sand, and the Pico sent a solemn salute—heavenly. Entranced by the scenery, I was enticed to sketch quickly and create a great oil painting.
I set the easel on the balcony between the open shutters. I’d hardly traced the first few lines on my canvas when my eyes fell onto an odd, tall and slim young man (about my age) in a long white T-shirt and worn-out brownish khakis. He stood barefoot on the sand in front of his easel between my room and the shore-line, facing the ocean, painting. Alternatively, he took his eyes off the canvas to glance at a brunette young woman in a bikini who lay supine on a towel a few feet in front of him and to his left, and then at the ocean, and again at his painting. A part of me turned increasingly curious about his production, and an hour into my sketching, I couldn't help but go down there, introduce myself as a colleague-artist, and peek at his work.
I immediately recognized I had just met a weirdo: messy blond hair, blue eyes avoiding contact, an odd smile, and awkward mannerisms. Fortunately, he spoke English. His easel held a canvas on which he had painted a sculptural naked female body riding upon a cresting wave. I guessed the young woman who lay beside us was his model. With a social smile and, to be honest, a pinch of envy about her perfect figure (in contrast to mine: short stature, short-styled black hair, and dark eyes), I turned to her: she was the one in the painting. The distant and dream-like smile with which she reciprocated mine made me think the two of them were not acquainted. I congratulated the man (‘Theophilus,’ he said his name was) and moved away, strolling along the shore.
An hour after my fantastic encounter with Theophilus, while savoring a mojito at the bar of the hotel, I found myself obsessing about his method of composition, thinking it would have never occurred to me to do anything like what he did, and so beautifully! I gave myself to reflecting on aspects related to the mysterious cavern of the mind where intuition, inspiration, and imagination dwell.
I was still lost in thought during lunch when the waiter brought my dessert (three-milk cake), and behind him, I discerned the bikini woman, now wearing a linen cover-up and a Panama hat, walking alone, and then occupying a nearby table. I didn’t hesitate to approach her, introduce myself, and apologize for my impertinence at the beach. Her name was Lupe, and she was from Florida.
“The guy is cuckoo,” she claimed.
“He’s also an artist.”
“I’m actually a model,” she said, “but I didn’t pose for him. As you saw, he stole the image of my body. I don’t really care, because he’s crazy.”
She didn’t care? “He’s also imaginative,” I said.
“Whatever,” Lupe said. “Do you care for a drink?”
“I must go now. Maybe another day?”
Lupe nodded again.
Three days later, I spotted Theophilus on the beach again, near the water, painting. He had a brownish bottle of beer half-buried in the sand, only the neck showing, tilted towards the ocean water. He repeatedly glanced at his object and then added touches to his painting. When I approached his easel and looked at his art, I was speechless, for the image on canvas was at odds with his subject model. He had painted a cluster of multicolor glass objects of different sizes and shapes, which looked as if randomly stored in some corner of a warehouse. My brain took in shapes of bottles with big bellies and narrow necks, wine porrons, ornamental plates, and lamps. It struck me the careful distribution of colors, tonalities, and reflections of light received from a mysterious source. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was looking at a still image created in imitation of the ones seen through a kaleidoscope. At that moment, I turned my head to look at the half-buried bottle: sunlight hitting the water reflected onto the bottleneck and scintillation gave way to moments of illusion of multiplication. Aha! Theophilus’s source of inspiration came from the light-phenomenon itself. I congratulated the painter for his artistic achievement. He nodded his head, probably to say thanks.
I remained in Puerto Plata for another week and even completed a painting of a port scene, but during my stay, I discovered that along with being a practicing artist, I am also a student of the process of creativity and the connections between art and human nature. I left my address with Theophilus, but I’m not sure he’ll use it.
Upon my return to Hollywood, I shared my experience in the island with Debbie; she doubted that my new interest would take me too far.
Jose L Recio is a physician and a writer. He is particularly interested in short fiction. His work is published in The Acentos Review, Cecile’s Writers Magazine, The Literary Nest, Aether and Ichor, Adelaide, and With Painted Words magazines, among others. He is originally from Spain but lives in L.A. with his wife and their whippet.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'One green bottle'
'Fusty Relics and Memories'