These are some of my paintings and drawings, none of which would have been possible without two men: my father and my art teacher, Charlie. Seven years ago this November, the heavens were made richer by the passing of my father; less than two weeks ago, Charlie joined the heavenly studio and enriched them yet again.
Back in 2007, my father asked me to join him at art class over the summer. I said yes, not because I had any particular artistic leaning or thought I had any talent but because I wanted to spend time with him in a pursuit he loved. Even if I was simply driving him and schlepping the materials, I was happy to be there, but that wasn’t good enough for Charlie. As long as I was at the studio, I would draw; I would paint. He would teach me.
Charlie did so much more than teach me how to draw. First, he taught me how to see, how to look at a picture or a still life and see a shape rather than an object. “How big is it? Where is it?” These are the questions he would ask whenever we started a drawing. They are the questions I ask myself now still. Once the preliminary shapes are in, Charlie’s chorus of “lights and darks” sounds in my mind, and his lesson on perspective with the disappearing railroad tracks lined with trees is vividly with me as well as the circles of shading from dark to light that decorate every beginning student’s sketch pad. “If we put that head in a closet and turned off all the lights, it would look black,” he would say of the bust we were drawing. His lessons remind me that how we see something depends on where we stand and how much light is shining on the subject.
But some things were not relative to Charlie, and these are the more important lessons I learned from him. His strong faith guided him. He not only knew his Bible and the lives of the saints, but also developed life long relationships with priests and sisters who are doing good work in the world today. His faith was a living faith, and one of the ways he lived it was in building a community.
Popular culture has built a reputation for artists as cut-throat opportunists vying for the best showing, but that is not what one finds at Charlie’s studio. There is a warmth there and encouragement, from Charlie for sure, but from the other artists as well because he created an atmosphere of celebrating art, our own and each others. We look for the good and highlight it.
Now, Charlie has died, and part of me relived my father’s passing when that happened because Charlie knew and loved my dad. But, just as I know that my father lives on in me, Charlie is not gone either. His beautiful art is still here; his wonderful, caring family is still here, and his studio, the supportive community he built, is still here. He often said, “Remember, the real reason for painting is to leave our mark—to celebrate our existence.” Charlie, you left your mark on me and so many others through your painting and your life. For that, I thank you. Requiscat in pace.