As one of Carson’s founders, Mary Anne O’Neal, is a true icon of the Carson community. A great-granddaughter of slaves who grew up on a farm in Arkansas, this 91-year-young woman leads her life by example. In a world of “its all about me,” she believes in today’s “unfashionable” notions such as serving others before oneself and helping a neighbor in need. Mrs. O’Neal is an inspiring, vibrant and kind human being, the kind that binds the world together. A rare soul, but one that still exists in every community.
This is the live drawing study for a painting. These kind of works rely entirely on the strong, truthful and emotional portrayal of a unique individual. The painting that I had in mind for Cirilo had to be a complete embodiment of this approach.
The strength and conviction of the character portrayal was essential to hold this complex work together. Developing the dimensional understanding of the underlying forms and of the proportional underpinning to their organization was the key to achieve it. That was the purpose and the function of this drawing that I executed in three live sessions.
Following my concept that special neighbors exist in every condition, I was fortunate to find a remarkable and inspiring character in Cirilo Campos, a beloved 75 year old “Scottsdale” gardener.
He came from the Guadalajara region in Mexico in 1965 and called “Scottsdale” home for 19 years. He has worked here non-stop for 30 years and would not quit. At his age, he is still the hardest working, fastest walking and the heaviest lifting on the whole crew. He would not sit or even slow down until the very minute he could punch his card for a lunch break. Working right is his way of life. In that place of not many sentiments, there is no one who would not love and respect him because it’s simply impossible.
Mr. Lipsey is from Mississippi. When I did this portrait he was 77. He came to LA in 1972. When he was just 6 years old his Dad went to get food for him on a pouring rain, got drenched and died of double pneumonia. As Mr. Lipsey puts it – in 1947 Missisippi “antibiotics were too good for blacks”. I asked him if he remembers segregation. He sure does. The bathrooms at bus stops. The movie theaters. When him and his friends went to the movies, they’d sit in the “blacks only” section of the balcony. Some white kids would go in a section above them and throw trash on them. And spit. And urinate. He remembers Emmett Till’s body pulled out of Tallahatchie River.
Mr. Lipsey is one of the oldest residents of “Scottsdale” Carson. Some old timers call him “The Seed and The Root”. He is a big man of not many words. He’s got a certain manner of speaking that sometimes it’s even difficult to make up what he’s saying without starting to listen very intently. Once I got “attuned”, I was amazed by the spot on kinness of his immediate judgements and observations. He is a great sitter. Once he finally took a break, got up and looked at the beginning stage of my drawing he said: “You drawing inside out”. I was blown away because this is exactly how I describe my approach to the students and very often see their puzzled expressions. Not with Mr. Lipsey. He amazed me few more times throughout our fabulous sessions.
Remarkable in his observations, he told me at the middle of last session as I begun to develop the drawing: “It’s the first time I am seeing real me”.
Ricardo Echevarria, “Ricky” was for years my next door neighbor. His indoor soccer field was directly next to my Carson studio.
Ricky is a survivor of a horrendous car crash that left him in a coma and his face disfigured. After many months of reconstructive surgeries and recovery, he was left unrecognizable even to his neighbors. To hide from prying eyes, he covered himself in tattoos that would grab all the attention. Ricky healed fully, his face is now truly beautiful and he regrets his tattoo decision.
Now he gracefully shares the gratitude for the miracle of his recovery with others. He is supporting the local children’s soccer team and has built and runs a fully-regulated professional indoor soccer rink for the kids and adults. In the time since finishing his portrait last year, Ricky’s youth soccer team, “The Kickers” won …trophies and is currently the California Champion.
Ricky’s face and demeanor carries a truly noble and refined expression of victory over unimaginable suffering and adversity. A local hero that every neighborhood should have.
Uncle Lincoln has been my good friend and neighbor at Carson studio for over ten years.
He is a native Hawai’i ukulele master who, along with his wife Auntie Sissy, a hula dance teacher, is deeply involved with preserving and revitalizing the Hawaiian culture and its way of life. “Ukulele Player” is an emotionally-charged representation of a truthful and authentic dedication to one’s cultural heritage.
Drawing Mr. Leon live was a very special experience. At the time I did the drawing, Mr. Leon was 101 years old and Carson’s oldest resident. He was from Puerto Rico. In the middle of our first session, I realized he was a D Day Veteran. It was a cathartic moment. With his permanently diminishing physical strength, making each word was a deliberate task that required massive concentration of precious energy, he’d say once and again: “I was in D Day”.
At this moment, his entire demeanor would change as if he heard the hell of incoming fire. His features would inexplicably take a forceful expression of complete determination.
These were moments of pure Beauty. Inside his feeble body, the same Spirit would wake up that led him out of the landing craft and through the water and onto the sand of Omaha.
Later, I found out from his son that Mr. Leon was a company C368 engineer in a general service regiment. He was part of the fourth wave on D Day with army serial #32704097.
“There was German fire coming down on us from the top on the right,” Mr. Leon was telling me as I kept drawing, completely overtaken by a sense of awe “Then the guys who were there before us got on’em from the side…they had to turn their fire away from us and on them, soon they were shooting no more. That’s why I made it through the water…that’s why I lived. Someone died so I lived.”
He also told me what I never heard before. On his landing craft, the order to jump out was given too early by their officer. The water was still too deep. Those who jumped first drowned under the weight of their gear.
It was amazing to see how in his diminishing body, some ideas that formulated over a lifetime still gave him the burst of forceful conviction. What he was saying felt as if it was overheard from another world.
One of his recurring thoughts worth pondering today: “Politicians are all the same. They want to get everything for themselves, that’s all. All of them.”
Another thought that was important to him and he would repeat again and again: “Learn history, if you know history, you know what’s going on today”
Mr. Leon passed not long after our meeting at a beautiful age of 102, a true hero next door whose bravery and wisdom will live forever.
So much wisdom and dignity in this disappearing generation of true fighters.