Marco in the Park
by Nick Brady
By the end of the semester Marco had completed 28 watercolors. His style of loose sketch overlaid with a color wash allowed him to work quickly. In the hands of another artist such a technique might have looked sloppy, but Marco's hand was sure and the simple sketches were beautifully rendered. Mrs. Lubowski had advised him to focus on watercolor at this time rather than spend much time with other media.
The end of semester student art exhibit turned out to be a showcase for his work. Eight of his paintings were included in the exhibit and 7 of them sold, none for less than $500. Marco was ecstatic.
"My Lord, I made almost $4000 from this one show," he exclaimed. "I can't believe it!"
"Does that tell you anything about a possible career choice?" I asked him.
"Could be," he shook his head. "Lubowski wants me to take private lessons this summer."
"Does she give private lessons?"
"I don't know, maybe. But she wants me to take lessons from a guy named Vandergraff. She says he doesn't usually take private students but she will talk to him."
"Who is he?" I wondered.
Marco shook his head. "I never heard of him. Of course that doesn't mean anything. I am sort of an ignoramus about all this. But Mrs. Lubowski says he's a wonderful artist and a good teacher. She is going to talk to him and then get back to me."
It turned out that Peter Vandergraff was more than just good, he was very good. When Katrina Lubowski showed him some of Marco's work he was impressed but said he wasn't taking private students. At her insistence he reluctantly agreed to at least talk with him.
Marco asked me to join him and we drove to Mr. Vandergraff's studio.
"Katrina showed me some of your paintings and I must say that I was rather impressed, but she should have told you that I'm not taking students at this time," he said.
"Yes sir, but she wanted me to talk to you. Maybe you could recommend someone else." Marco suggested.
The older man looked at Marco with curiosity. "I didn't expect you to be so young. How old are you?"
"I will be 19 in October," Marco told him.
"I see. And is this a hobby for you? What are your intentions, young man?"
Marco hesitated. "Actually, I haven't been painting all that long, but I really enjoy it. I think if I could make a career out of it I would."
"So you are serious about your work, is that correct?" he asked for clarification.
"Yes sir, I am. I really love this. The idea that I could actually make this a career is pretty exciting," he explained.
Mr. Vandergraff appeared thoughtful. "You do have remarkable talent. May I ask what training you have had?"
Marco hesitated. "Not much really. I took a class from Mrs. Walters at Tulsa Community College and the last two semesters I studied with Mrs. Lubowski. That's about it."
"Really? I must say, that is remarkable. Where did you learn to draw?" He asked.
Marco looked a little confused. " I don't know. I have always liked to draw but I never took any lessons."
The old man looked at me and then asked Marco. "And who is this gentleman?"
Marco hesitated only for a moment. "This is my husband Marty."
Mr. Vandergraff looked a little surprised. "I see. It appears that you have already made some serious decisions."
"Yes sir. I think I know what is important to me," Marco replied.
"I see. And how important is your painting, may I ask?"
Marco paused and made a decision. "I think that next to Marty, painting is the most important thing in my life right now. At least I hope it will be."
The old man smiled. "It appears to me that you know your own mind, young man."
Marco did not reply, but waited for the teacher to continue.
Mr. Vandergraff pursed his lips and appeared thoughtful. "How hard are you willing to work at this?"
"I wait tables at Luigi's on weekend evenings. I have spent the last two summers riding as a bicycle messenger, but this summer I plan to work full time on my painting and see where it goes," Marco explained.
The old man looked at me. "And what are you feelings on this decision? As his partner it is of interest to know how much you support his work."
The question surprised me a little but I replied without hesitation. "I support him absolutely. It is clear to me that he has a God given talent and I know him to be extremely passionate about it – more so than he has shared with you today. Nothing would please me more than to see him succeed in his art."
"I see," the man seemed to be considering his action. "I am very busy with my own work and do not normally take individual students. However, I must say that you interest me young man. If I agree to work with you I would expect you to work very hard."
Marco smiled shyly. "I would promise you that sir."
"Hmm. How would you feel about meeting for one hour a week? I would charge you $100 for each hour. How would you feel about that?"
Marco hesitated. "I would like to see some of your paintings"
The old man laughed for the first time. "Ha! That is an excellent answer. Of course you would. Come into my studio and I can show you some things."
Suddenly almost jovial, we followed him into a spacious room with long windows along the north wall. Standing on easels and against the walls were dozens of watercolors in various stages of completion. Some were very detailed, some almost impressionistic, all quite beautiful. Marco walked about the room looking at them intently.
"Oh, these are wonderful," he exclaimed. He stopped and asked about several of them. "The colors are gorgeous. How do you do that?"
The man smiled. "Well now, that information isn't free. We will have to talk about that when you begin to study with me."
Marco smiled broadly. "Then you will take me on as a student? Oh, thank you sir. I will work hard and try to make you proud of me Mr. Vandergraff."
"I have no doubt that you will, Marco. However, it would be more agreeable to me if you would call me Peter. Mr. Vandergraff is rather a mouthful, don't you think?"
Now Marco was laughing. "Yes sir, yes Peter. That's just great. Thank you very much. When can we begin?"
Peter pulled out a little pocket calendar and consulted it. "How would Wednesday mornings at 10 o'clock work for you? I prefer to work in the morning. Is that too early for you?"
"Oh no, that will be fine. Should I pay you in advance? I am really excited about this." Marco's enthusiasm was very evident now.
"We can discuss that later," he said. I assume your finances are good."
"Yes sir. I am in good shape after the art exhibit at TU."
"Oh? Did some of your paintings sell?"
"Yes sir," Marco smiled, resisting the temptation to say for how much.
"Well now, you are off to a good start then aren't you? Would you like to begin next Wednesday?" he suggested. "Be rested when you come in as we don't want to waste any time."
They shook hands and the interview was over. Marco practically danced on the way out to the car.
"Did you see his stuff? That guy is really good," Marco asked with excitement.
"It looked good to me," I agreed. "But the important question is what he can teach you. How much can he help you develop your own talent?"
Marco beamed. "I have plenty to learn."
"He has kind of an accent, do you know where he is from?" I asked.
"I noticed that too. I think Mrs. Lubowski said he was Dutch."
"Right, as in from Holland, the Netherlands," Marco explained. "I have a good feeling about this guy."
And so did I. As it turned out, Peter, as he preferred to be called, was an excellent teacher. Marco began to spend every Wednesday morning at his studio. Their sessions seldom ran less than several hours as they spent a lot of time talking about whatever it was that artists talked about. When Marco was not working with his new instructor, he was at the studio at TU. Mrs. Lubowski was there from time to time and was generous with her advice about the things he was painting. To say that he was enthusiastic would be an understatement. I had never seen him so happy.
His improved attitude was even reflected in our love making. He became more affectionate. Our showers grew longer and the time in bed was more enthusiastic. Marco had grown increasingly solemn over the last year as the burden of school and work had weighed him down. Now he seemed to be free. He loved his job at the Italian restaurant and his painting was like play to him.
This was not to say that he failed to take it seriously. He scarcely thought about anything else. Now that he had given himself permission to focus on painting he discovered that he was obsessed with understanding the way to wet his paper so that the colors flowed properly, how to mix different shades of color on opposite sides of the brush so that surfaces took on a three-dimensional appearance, how to crisply define the edges of adjacent areas so that they held together without flowing into each other. He tried to explain these things to me with a sense of discovery and great delight.
I understood little but shared in his excitement. He was having fun, and in the process improving very rapidly. He made me think of a young boy who had been given permission to masturbate and was working diligently to improve his skills.
It was not necessary to remind him to do his homework. When at home in our apartment he sketched little things on pages of newsprint to be expanded and perfected when in his class or in the lab. Mrs. Lubowski, whom he now was referring to as Katrina, was dropping in to check on his progress from time to time. Peter seemed to be quite pleased with his work and offered many suggestions and much encouragement. Marco was a happy camper.
Over the summer Marco's rapid style allowed him to build a surprisingly large portfolio of completed paintings. Some of the smaller things he brought home to share with me. While I had the appreciation of a dullard, even I could see they were quite good. He told me that Peter had him working on some larger pieces that were not convenient to transport but promised that I could see them later.
When he first began, his style was essentially to make a sharply drawn pen and ink sketch which was washed over with subtle areas of color. Now he was rendering the sketches lightly in pencil then redefining the work with sharply defined details, obscuring the original sketch under layers of more intense color. It was the blend of complimentary and contrasting color which had immediately impressed him with Peter's work, that he was now emulating very successfully. My initial surprise was now better described as amazement. Something like a creative demon had been released in him. He returned home spattered with splashes of paint and a joyous demeanor.
The financial arrangements of their collaboration was something that was left up to Marco. He banked his earnings from Luigi's and required no assistance from me. I knew he had saved the proceeds from the sale of his work at the TU exhibit and assumed that he was managing the cost of his instruction successfully. It was also clear that Peter was spending more time with him than was required from their initial contract and I doubted that he was charging him for all of that time.
By the end of the summer Peter had suggested that Marco submit some of his work to several private art galleries in the Brookside area. They offered the work of local artists to those individuals who had interest in the fine arts, both for their own enjoyment and as investment of a sort. He was beginning to make himself known. When I asked him how that was going he simply smiled, and told me it was going OK. His increased morale had as an unexpected benefit that his interest in cooking had renewed, and I had started coming home to find a nice dinner on the stove.
Around the first of August I asked him. "Have you enrolled with TU for the fall semester."
Marco was lounging on our sofa and gazed up at his Indian. "I was intending to talk to you about that," he said quietly.
I sat next to him. "I'm listening."
"I don't know how you will feel about this, but I was kind of thinking about taking a break this semester," he said shyly. "I really want to finish my computer degree, but I thought maybe I would just take 9 hours this fall."
"We talked about that before. I think that would be fine."
Marco kept his eyes on the picture on our wall. "If I drop back to 9 hours a semester it will take me another 3 semesters to finish, maybe 4. I hate to slow things down, but that would give me more time to work with Peter."
"You are doing very well with your art. I can't see that you need to rush with the academics right now," I agreed. "Isn't 9 hours sufficient for you to retain your scholarship?" I asked.
"Right. That's what I was thinking," he said.
"You don't need a degree to paint," I pointed out.
Marco sighed. "I know, but I have been working on this college thing for quite awhile now. It seems like I should finish it."
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Where is your passion?"
"I really like to paint," he acknowledged. "And I am starting to sell some things."
"How is that going?" I asked. "You haven't talked about that much."
"Well, one of my larger paintings sold for $1200 dollars yesterday," he said shyly. "Peter wants me to show some things at a gallery in Dallas."
I thought for a minute. "Do you have time to take 9 hours?"
He frowned. "This is all happening too fast. I don't want to completely shift gears this soon. I have to admit that I am really pleased with how this is going, but the bubble might burst, and then I would really kick myself for quitting school. I've worked hard at this."
I nodded at the Indian. "What does he say?"
Marco pursed his lips. "I just feel like I should finish what I started."
"Have you talked to Peter about this?" I asked.
"I did actually. He suggested switching to an art degree, so I could teach or something."
"How do you feel about that?"
"I don't know. I don't feel called to be a school teacher," Marco said.
"Well, you don't really feel called to be a computer programmer either," I pointed out.
Marco smiled. "No, I guess not. All I really like to do is paint and ride a bicycle – and play with you."
"Well nobody would suggest that you teach art to kindergarten kids. Think about the class you took from Mrs. Walters or from Mrs. Lubowski. Could you do that?"
Marco thought about that. "I might. I would have to know a lot more than I do now though."
I nodded. "That would be the point of an art degree. Besides which, that sort of a program would talk about a lot more than just painting. Think of how much you like museums."
Marco began to nod his head. "Yeah, maybe. I will think about it. I'll talk to Peter on Wednesday and ask him what he did. I don't know if he has a degree or not."
"You know who else you could talk to? Father Hoover has never steered you wrong, and he knows a lot of things," I suggested.
"True. He is my friend for sure. It couldn't hurt to run this by him," Marco agreed.
One of the advantages of taking a summer break from school and work was the opportunity for free time during the day. Marco phoned Father Hoover the next morning to ask for a conversation. He was invited to come right over and did so. Marco shared the conversation to me that evening.
"Come in, nice to see you. How is your summer going?" Father Hoover asked.
"It's been good," Marco explained. "I am taking private art lessons and have been painting a lot."
"Yes, I saw some things in the newspaper. Apparently you are attracting some very positive attention."
"Yes sir, thank you. Actually, I kind of wanted to talk about that."
Father Hoover leaned forward and smiled affectionately. "Please tell me what is on your mind."
"Well, I have been working on a degree in computer science for the past several years, first at Tulsa Community College and now at Oklahoma State in Tulsa. That is going quite well and my marks are good, but there is a complication."
Hoover smiled. "There always is. That's called life. Please go on."
"Yes sir. You see, I have always liked to draw and paint and Marty encouraged me to pursue that, at least as a hobby. I have been taking lessons in watercolor along with my technical studies, and that is going very well too. Much better than I expected actually."
"I gathered that from the newspaper," the priest nodded.
"This summer I sort of took a break from school and work and have been taking private lessons from Peter Vandergraff."
Hoover's eyebrows went up. "Oh really? He is quite well known and an excellent artist. I didn't know he was teaching."
Marco smiled. "No, he doesn't usually, but he has been working with me this summer. He is encouraging me to exhibit at some galleries here in Tulsa and some of my paintings are beginning to sell."
"Oh, that's wonderful news Marco. Congratulations."
"Thank you sir. But that is what I want to ask you about. Mr. Vandergraff wants me to think about changing to an art degree and I'm not sure if I should do that. That would be a pretty drastic change in plans."
Father Hoover leaned back and appeared to be thinking. "How close are you to your computer degree?"
"Two semesters if I continue to really bang away at it, 3 or 4 if I slow down to make the time to paint. I would be almost starting over for a degree in art," Marco hesitated. "Well, I guess some of the required courses might be the same, but it would be a lot farther away. I would probably need to change schools too. OSU is more of a technical school. I don't know that they offer a degree in art."
"How much do you enjoy the technical courses?"
"They are interesting. I wouldn't say they are easy, but I have made good grades. I think I can complete the program without any problem if I keep plugging away at it."
"How much do you enjoy them?" Hoover repeated.
"Well, they are OK. That's the kind of work that Marty does and he says he likes it. I guess once you get into it maybe it can be creative, I don't know. The coursework is mostly just learning principles and tools," Marco explained.
Hoover nodded. "And how much do you enjoy the painting?"
Marco smiled. "I guess I see what you're getting at. I love to paint. It is more like play than work."
"What would you prefer to be doing 5 years from now, assuming that you would be successful in either case?"
"If you put it that way I guess I would rather paint. I know I love that and I don't know what computer work would be like. I think my main concern is being able to support myself. Marty keeps telling me not to worry about that but I want to feel like I'm independent."
Father Hoover leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Is it necessary for you to have an income separate from Marty? Is that relationship tenuous?"
"Oh no. Marty and I are very happy. I can't imagine living apart from him. I love him very much and he loves me too. We are fine, really."
"I am certain of that," he chuckled. "I am just asking you to look clearly at your current and future situation. Sort of an assessment of your needs shall we say. I suppose I am asking you to distinguish between what you need to do and what you really want to do. There is more to consider here than just potential income."
Marco thought for a moment. "To tell the truth, I never thought it would be possible to make any money doing something I enjoy so much. It almost feels like cheating."
Father Hoover laughed. "I will tell you that when I was your age I felt a very strong pull for the ministry, but it never really occurred to me that I would make a lot of money at it. And of course I have not. The priesthood is not the path to riches. But I have never regretted my decision. I love what I do and truly believe that this is what God has called me for."
The old priest leaned forward. "A talent like yours is a gift from God, Marco. I can't tell you what to do, but I hope that you will pray about this decision and follow your heart. Sometimes that is a better guide than our intellects. You are young and you have talent. Make the best of it. No decision you make at this time is irrevocable."
Marco looked back at his friend. "I wish you could tell me what to do. You just ask me questions. I guess I will try to pray about all this. I am not much good at praying though."
"Oh, I think you are better at it than most of us Marco. I have come to know you well enough to see you make very good decisions. I think you will do just fine my boy. You are a good person. I have faith in you."
Marco smiled. "Thank you Father. You always make me feel so good about myself. I think when I call you 'Father' it is more than just a title."
"I do love you Marco. Go with God." He leaned back as if to say that our conversation was finished for now.
Marco came home and took his place on the sofa. That is where I found him when I came home from work.
"Hello. Did you talk to Father Hoover?" I asked him.
Marco was studying his Indian. "I have been thinking."
"That can be hard work," I said. "What do you think?"
Marco sighed. "I think maybe I need to shift gears. What do you think about my switching to an art major?"
I smiled at my beloved Marco. "I think that would be fine. I have been hoping that you would do that."
"Really? It would mean starting over again. I guess some of the courses could transfer but I might have wasted some time with the technical stuff."
"Nothing we learn is ever wasted Marco. Think of the discipline you learn by programming. Think of the focus on structure and form that programming imposes on you. Can't that be applied to a lot of things?" I asked him.
He nodded in agreement. "I guess so. You're usually right about a lot of things Marty. Father Hoover made me think about my reasons for wanting an education. He made me realize that it is about more than just being able to make a living."
"What did he say about that?" I asked.
"He said I should follow my heart."
"What have I been telling you?"
Marco looked at his Indian and then over at me. "I guess you have been telling me the same thing."
I nodded at his painting. "What does your friend tell you?"
Marco leaned back and smiled. "He tells me that the thing I love best in the whole world is painting, next to you that is. I love you better than anything in the world Marty. Hoover told me that my art is a gift from God, and so are you."
"Did Hoover tell you that?"
Marco smiled at me. "He said that about my painting. I said that about you. Every good thing that has ever happened to me has come after we met. You are my gift from God. I have told you that before."
Marco turned to me and leaned over to take me in his arms. We embraced and he held me close. We kissed and the moment of tenderness turned to a time of passion. For the first time, we made love on the sofa. We dispensed with the shower and proceeded directly to a rather cramped version of our familiar mambo. I glanced at the Indian and could swear that he was smiling.
When we had both caught our breath, we picked up the pile of clothing that had formed on the floor and decided that the rest of the evening should be spent in celebration of his new career as an artist. I insisted that we go out to dinner at a nice restaurant as my treat. We drove up to the White River Fish Market and dined on gumbo and a platter of boiled crayfish.
The next day was Wednesday and Marco had a long talk with Peter Vandergraff about pursuing an art major. Peter was very pleased.
"I have been thinking about your suggestion to get a degree in art rather than the technical degree that I have been working on," Marco told him."
"Yes, and what do you think?" Peter asked.
"I have talked to the two people I respect the most, my partner and my priest, and they have both given me encouragement to do this," he explained.
"You talked to your priest about this?"
"Yes, he has been very helpful to me about a lot of things."
"So you are a person of faith, is that true?" Peter asked.
Marco nodded. "Yes, you could say that. Whatever faith I have has seen me through a lot of things."
Peter smiled. "That is a good thing. I share that with you my friend."
"I wanted to know what sort of art school you attended. Do you have an art degree or something like that?" Marco asked.
"Yes, yes. I attended The Royal Conservatory in the Hague, the capital of my country. I am a Hollander you know."
"Katrina told me that. When did you come to this country?" Marco wondered.
"I was a young man and after my schooling I went looking for adventure," Peter smiled. "I spent time in Paris, and in London. I was pursuing my dream of traveling, and I met many interesting people. I loved my art and found that other people loved it too. I was really quite successful."
Marco smiled. "How did you end up in Tulsa of all places?"
"Oh well, that is a long story. I met a fellow on my travels and we got on quite well. He had family here and I came with him to visit," he chuckled. "You know, if you paint and people like what you do, you can be anywhere. Writers are like that too."
"So what happened to your friend?" Marco asked.
"Oh, he is still here. We are still friends," Peter smiled in a knowing way but did not elaborate.
Marco was curious. "Is he a painter too?"
"He is a writer. He has published many poems in good magazines, and books too," Peter smiled. "He is very good."
Marco wondered about his name and thought it would be interesting to read some of his poetry, but felt that he had pried enough.
"So can you advise me about a school?" Marco requested.
Oh, there are many fine schools to learn about painting," Peter told him. "Many are in Europe, and there are good schools here in this country too. Are you able to travel?"
Marco hesitated. "I don't think so. I have a partner here in Tulsa and I would not want to leave him."
"Yes, Marty is that correct? He came with you when we first met. You are committed to him?"
"Oh yes. I love him very much. We are legally married actually. We were married here in Tulsa some time ago," Marco explained.
Peter smiled. "That's very nice. He seemed to be a very good fellow. I am happy for you. So you wish to remain here to study?"
Marco nodded. "Yes, I think so. I need to be with my husband."
"I see. Well, I can tell you that the University of Tulsa has rather a good school of art. It is not the best, but they have some good people. I lecture there myself sometimes. And of course you would not have to leave your dear one. I might suggest that to you."
"So how should I proceed? Do I just show up and ask about it or what?"
Peter smiled again. "I may be able to help you. I can give you the name of someone there who can advise you."
And with that, the decision was made. Within a week Marco had enrolled and was renegotiating his Seminole scholarship. Although TU was a much more expensive private university, the tuition only scholarship was still available and very helpful.
With Peter's encouragement and recommendation, Marco's paintings were beginning to sell, both locally and at a rather prestigious gallery in Dallas.
The gears had shifted.
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