March 5, 1972
It was happening 25 miles south at my loft studio building in Buffalo, NY… There was a loud blast; the floor and ceiling blew off simultaneously, gas, fire, loss of my paintings and death.
At that particular time I was at a symposium on Para psychology at Niagara Community College, where I was employed as a painting instructor. I had a weird feeling that someone was reaching out to me at the moment of this disaster. My colleagues joked about the obvious coincidence and suggested that I was highly susceptible to the conference suggestions.
Several months latter, I received notice that I was granted a sabbatical leave which eventually led to a Portuguese fishing village.
Lagos had a nearby beach on the Atlantic Ocean, which was vacant of people as far as the eye could see. Huge plinth like rocks jutted from above the beach, reflecting their beauty on the crystal waters and beyond.
One day while walking on the beach I spotted a small group of people grilling sardines. As we approached, a tall man with long hair, gold chains around his neck, and a large belt buckle protruding from his solid waist, waved to us and invited us to join him. Our host, Carlos Tarzana or “Tarzan,” was the tallest, most imposing and well-informed gentleman in the fishing village of Lagos, the unofficial Mayor. Tarzan knew everyone and noticed everyone.
A week latter, Tarzan arrived at my door with Joaquim Bravo & Alvaro Lapa, both artists. Bravo spoke and taught English at the local school and Lapa was living in an abandoned barn overlooking the ocean. They wanted to know everything about my views on American art. I was invited to their studios where they showed me their sketchbooks, paintings, and drawings, old and new. They welcomed me with open arms. I was totally surprised at their knowledge of American painting.
The following months were spent painting and drawing, exploring the Algarve, having coffee with my new friends and learning about Portuguese art and culture. I have fond memories of the three of us at my studio looking at my most recent paintings as if we were looking at TV and communicating the strengths and weaknesses of the work. As I look back, I wonder how we sustained the hour-long meetings, I spoke very little Portuguese and Lapa spoke a kind of “metaphysical” English. Fortunately, Bravo had a fluent command of English.
I remember Bravo recommending the Gallery Judith DaCruz in Lisbon and introducing me to David Evans its director. In 1973 towards the end of my sabbatical year I consigned several paintings and works on paper to the gallery. We contracted to have an exhibition the following year, 1974.
“The Carnation Revolution” of April 25, 1974, a military coup overthrew the regime of Estado Novo. As reported, hardly any shots were fired and the Portuguese people in Lisbon, celebrated by inserting carnations on the uniforms of the military and into the muzzles of their rifles. On April 25th every year it is celebrated as “Freedom Day”. However, in 1974, the Gallery, Judith DaCruz disappeared along with my paintings. In 1990 I had business in Madrid, Spain, at the Arco Art Fair. I mentioned to my wife Carole that I felt a strange need to travel to Madrid, even though it is was not necessary for my business. I arranged to meet Bravo in Madrid, than drive to Lagos with him. On our way to Lagos we stopped in Evora, the University City where Bravo and Lapa had studied.
Bravo and I walked along arm in arm…Bravo quite intensely spoke about his life and art, (I believe he mentioned his illness), however, it did not register with me at that time. Never have I had such an intense conversation. He told me he was building a studio and home and offered me the chance to do the same next to him. Was this what had drawn me back to Portugal, again? This conversation, this walk?
Upon my arrival home I made a painting about my “Walk with Bravo” which was dedicated to our friendship. Weeks passed and I heard nothing from Bravo, finally I contacted Lapa’s son Hugo only to find out that Bravo had passed away. I felt the air completely leaving my body, totally deflated and melancholy. I am told that Lapa and Bravo also had made paintings dedicated to our friendship, unaware of mine. I lost all desire to return to Portugal.
January 2015 -- MISSING PAINTINGS DISCOVERED 43 years latter…while visiting New Orleans, I received an email from David Evans the former Director of Judith DaCruz gallery in Lisbon in 1973. Ms. Judith DaCruz had contacted him and asked him to find me. The paintings, which were made just prior to the revolution, were discovered rolled up in the corner of her late husband’s studio. Thankfully, David was able to ship the paintings back to me.
The glorious outcome of this story is that the “Missing Paintings” returned once again to Portugal for exhibition in July 2016. They were reunited with the paintings made in 1973 by my deceased friends, Bravo (1935 -1990) and Lapa (1939 -2006). The show was called “Reconnect” at Casa Das Tavira, in the Algarve, and arranged by the curator David Evans. It was a tribute to our friendship and focused on paintings made just prior to the revolution. Lapa and Bravo are considered important 20th Century Portuguese Modernists and a bit of Portuguese Art History.
Art was the vehicle, which drove this experience.
What a journey!