My colors in the canvas have a language of their own. But is this dark dance of hidden words in my subject through my pigment only a myopic introspection? Do they speak close enough and deep enough to the truth of symbols; or are they just a grand illusion in a castrated crystal ball from my slow and difficult creative onslaught? The line of red that runs parallel to the old man’s hands could be a symbol for blood; the fact this red could have mingled with his fingers might suggest some tragedy he’s perpetrated in a rage of madness? And the dark black and blue area above his shoulders could stand also for something dark in his life, but I like to think of this area as maybe what’s left in the sky for him, something after his death-that once he gets through this darkness there will be some light, some new stars, his future will go on; and maybe it won’t be in an afterlife, but the seeds he sees in his grandchildren coming in and out of his basalt home will be enough to sustain him. The yellow color of his shirt I think symbolizes his pride. The green of the roof above the dark blue and black area shows a calming element in the man’s soul; like his life has been shaded by a veranda or adega leaves rustling quietly next to ripening red grape vines that are throwing in the air a pungent aroma that are making the moths swarm.
The barricade color of the door doesn’t symbolize by its color, but it does remind me that he is behind something; perhaps he has lived so long because he has not let his passion rule him. He was not so stubborn that his pride never stopped him from stepping out of harm’s way when it was still possible. Perhaps in his own life he has made compromises that helped his health, his good relations with his wife and kids, friends, and his parents too. Like in this instance where the barricade door protects him from the bull; he too had an inward door that protected him from himself. Perhaps a self perspective that told him some of his human traits weren’t quite kosher enough to have within them the humility that could have protected him from embarrassment or tragedy-weren’t quite solid enough to live a full and happy life; so he worked on them, shaped them into something more palatable for his character, and his spirit as well.
The human connection is important in my work because it really is a spiritual connection. My need to communicate through pigment and colors everyday mysteries that are cornerstones to my artistic life in wet brushes and palette dreams is what forces me to understand all the various and intimate realms of human nature. My art’s purpose is to show others of my creative world what pathos brings to tragedy; and how common character portraits can through humility deliver the grace necessary for a viewer’s compassion. Also at other times through the fantastic and visionary aspects of my paintings to show when my subject matter demands something more than an easy or traditional approach to my work; because there is no end to the possibilities of art if you have sacrificed enough in time what it takes to put in your fingers holding the artist brushes the action of your creative dreams; and what your idea of glory demands on a simple down-home face to make it shine with a humble realism.
Basically I’m hoping to capture the realities of creative action, which for me is found in interpretation; but interpretation not only by symbols, by proximity of colors as well; and by luck, hard work to fully understand my subject and where I can take it by ambition, by unexpected vision arrows striking the bulls eye’s of all the imaginary gifts that real invention brings to artistic search. And the farther you get out on that limb of profound risk for art, the more inspired gems you will find; and more important than anything else is my persistent and defiant portrayal of beauty and truth that reveals the human soul, the human condition, the laughter and the tragedy of it, and the beautiful and ugliness of the glory within it too. This is why, The Potato Eaters, by Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favorite masterpieces.
All of life is really in one painting if you look at it closely; if you study it long enough, if you go back to a painting like I do when I learn more than what I knew when I first created it. This learning from it takes me deeper into a more understandable and secured future of where my art is taking me. Because all good and great art is a transcending into other worlds, whether they be earth-bound or cosmic. Soul is to tomorrow what spontaneity brings today-something new to my work. You get more than what you start out for if you go for broke each time you pick up your brushes. I know through the forty-six years I’ve been a painter that it has been a calling. I’m probably a priest of pigment or colors that lead me into how I want to express my subjects; and through the individual challenges each canvas expects from me I try to live up to those demands. Each subject insists on different mixtures on my palette; sometimes different styles. Sometimes the styles are invented on their own through some kind of new discovery in my obsessions. Because I am obsessed when I paint. The creative adrenalin pushes me to know more why I love colors and how combinations of colors move me to find the precise colors I need. I do it at all odds, and for no money if that what it takes. I get my glory out of it. I get my existence out of it. It is my daily bread and my wine and all the women I paint, I know them better too. Intimacy of touch through pigment is the same whether it is a flower, a breast, a dragonfly wing, a horse, a church-everything I draw and paint revolutionizes forever how I will feel for new future subjects that challenge me. You have to love and respect what you become as you evolve as a painter. I chose those subjects; they are who I am. And they are who I will be. And the bottom line on this is they will be done for intimacy’s sake and intimacy’s sake alone. I do it all because I have to, not because I have a choice not to do it. Art after awhile commands you to paint; and respects you for being a painter. (My girlfriend has always had a different opinion when I do a woman’s breast, and when I do a dragonfly wing; she says I have different feelings and different intimacies that are not the same).
The rich fertility that takes place with the visions and ideas that come during the creative act are volcanic; and even magic at times as a result of the field studies I’ve done within my imagination. I must capture quickly this new insight that comes so unexpectedly like a gold rush in my senses. You lose all sense of time during this period. It’s the obsessive time to roll with the visions when they are at their molten stage; you don’t want them to cool too fast. But as a painter I wait for hours sometimes for this magic time before the visionary aspect of my work takes off, until my canvases become passion’s seeds. Until that time my sitting at the easel is mundane, mechanical, and even boring. And what finally pulls the canvas off into its last refinements is that unknown element that you can never put your finger on until some sudden inner explosion worms you out of the impasse; and makes your work something elegant, instead of something mediocre. Because a painting without vision never reaches its true nakedness; and without boldness or starkness in the painting, as people are fond of saying in this North Country when they talk about a man that has no worth-he was made with piss. For if you don’t have something swimming wild out of your passion for release in some form of new truth in a new visionary light…you might as well go peck shit with the chickens.
The Lady of the Bulls
(for Brianda Pereira)
On my way to Brianda’s house
I dropped down between high hedges to dry
stalks of bamboo hacked into the ox-cart road;
where the grinding iron wheels once cut
into lava bedrock the metamorphous did unfold;
the strong smell of honey bee pastures
and expensive grand taste of wide Atlantic waves
has been replaced with vast successful groves;
prosperity changed these volcanic fences,
now familiar rats eat the small sweet bananas
and planted owls swoop down to hunt them every night.
But the old sea breeze still invites and you roll
with its pleasure of sensuality upon your skin;
a perfume of centuries rocks timeless in isolation,
then anticipation fleshes out going around the bend-
the manor house sight is an odd broken flower
hanging lifeless from a drooping ragged stem.
Fame never gathered its skirt for a brighter day
when I enter slowly, in fear of what might break;
the railing on the stairway is fractured bone.
I pick up a blue knob, and polish some of the dirt
away from the surface, enjoying the color that
finally blooms like a deep light into my palm.
I am even sadder now once the cruel side
of memory plays with a rare ghost, no longer
honoring the amazement of her brave soul.
An island songbird gives a solitary tribute
in the tangled undergrowth of shame,
resting and singing away the lack of homage.
If this place was a souvenir of glory,
the fading chipped paint curling unmercifully
would never have claimed it so boldly.
You’d hear again the long tub of grapes smashed
into red invitations, wine music squeezed
into a thick juice sound; a flowing promise
alive and warm, stomping bare feet bulging
with her courageous deed the wealth
of abandoned solid oak barrels to idleness.
An apparition could honor more at midnight
than what the family of blood respects here;
the chapel is cold with senseless solitude;
the ancient wide cornerstones of basalt salute
the cluttered paper fertilizer bags strung across
the location where pews once graced the faithful.
Genuflecting in worship once held hope,
the Sunday mass balanced so perfectly
the beauty of the place in her proud name.
The altar so bare of saints the grain of the wood cries
and a murderous glance has a defeated undertow-
the sentinels of rank weeds laugh inside the barren oven;
down the hallway the earth is showing through where
the rotting floor speaks of a different breed of danger,
the greedy phantom nervously saying its daily prayers.
Instinctively you know the exact door where they
stripped Christ clean of His cross, pulling Him down
with the suffering in a spiritual police search, hauling
Him to safety for fear of all the growing invading moss.
From 1562 to the 1950’s there was a solemn choir
in these heaps of rubble so menacingly parading;
and the ruins of ambiance with no kneeling benches
sucked dry from the sky the lovely host once here.
Finally the sacrament spent its last night in the rain.
Windows barred with halved wine casks meekly protect
bleached boards from every uncharted winter storm.
Paint peels, beat broken roof tiles jackknife from
the ceiling to greet the layered eyes of contortion.
Brianda’s name among these huge non-earthquake-
shaken cornerstones does not tribute blood-
the wreckage supports solely a rude indifference.
Now privilege has the endless smell of decay.
Her bravery should anoint longing like a poet’s sun,
not sleep in green mold for centuries, holding
so tight to nothing in sight that reignites fresh air.
A stranger brings a light you can’t ever take away.
The last bottle is empty of flowing vines,
but the cork seals in an old residue of wine-
it’s a sweet vision once you realize that through
the dried mud smeared on the side, the image
of soil on the glass undisturbed, it too is a leader.
Brianda walked on this same earth
and saw the war ships at the bay
and yelled to her husband, “Go quickly
to the fort in Angra. There’s no time to lose.
The enemy’s already on our shoreline!”
She slowed them up, splitting their columns
till help could arrive, crushing
and saving the last island from ever
falling into the Spanish empire’s hands.
She pushed the bulls, waving
her arms wide, creating a knot of confusion
once the ruthless seed of conquering set fire.
She forced the wild herd
upon the advancing soldiers eager to kill,
ambitious for the throats of fighting Azoreans.
That old wine and her footsteps are the blood now:
the life, even the bread of bravery from countless
souls who won their victory at the Bay of Salga.
Everything has gained the rich color of celebrity
in the shining potency of her rare courage;
and the strength of her old vineyards match
the last stronghold of a nation’s freedom
where the lady of Terceira forever smiles.
Art Coelho poet, novelist, painter, and 7 Buffaloes Press Publisher (Rural & Working Class Literature), lives in Big Timber, Montana. His grandparents emigrated from the Azores. Art Coelho has written three Diaspora novels: The Dream and the Wooden Shoe; The Americanization of Antônio; and Papa’s Dairy. Two of Coelho’s cataloged exhibitions, “To The Azores and Back Again: In Poetry & Painting” and “Twice Removed: An Exhibit of Portuguese-American Artists” (April 11-June 27, 2009), shown at the Boston Public Library, received a NEH grant. Art Coelho’s ten-year gypsy period included a work, “My Own Brand,” in the Macmillan anthology Traveling America with Today’s Poets. A short story, “My First Kill” was selected for Fiction 100, a Prentice-Hall university textbook. Coelho won the Pushcart Prize in 1976 with the poem “Like a Good Unknown Poet.”
Originally published in RTPComunidades (2010)