THE BUILDER AND THE PAINTER
I’m building an art gallery in Austin TX.
The gallery is now nearing completion—hopefully, it will be ready in January 2021.
It’s only a modest gallery, just to satisfy the need for an African art gallery in Texas, such a great state, yet without such a gallery devoted to the art of Africa.
The architect is Beau Frail, from Florida.
The Engineer is R.D. Hammond, from Texas.
And the builder is the incredible contractor, Miguel Castillo, a Latino with Cuban and Guatemalan roots.
Miguel took a look at one of the paintings in my house and asked, “How much does this cost?”
“Maybe $10,000,” I answered.
“This small work?” Miguel reacted. “I am an artist too, a builder with imagination, you don’t agree.”
“I totally agree with you Miguel,” I answered.
“And my price is expensive, but I will strike a deal with you,” Miguel said. “I know the architect and the engineers are fleecing you, but I like you and will give you a good bargain.”
Miguel then painted me a really beautiful vision of the artistic touch he planned to give the gallery, from the lighting up to the painting.
“We will finish it with white,” he concluded. “A true flashing white. Not off-white, but a white-white to offset the displays. And the stairs will be wide. When your clients climb the stairs to the top of the loft, they will see the small works, each with a glowing soft lighting. And there is wine, you know. Up there in the loft, they will think they are in heaven and will pay you a handsome price.”
“I know, Miguel,” I responded.
“Now, this is the deal,” Miguel continued. “I want your art in return. My wife loves art. And I will give her your painting, and invite you for a dinner at my house. She is a great chef, specially trained by my mother to prepare what I love. With good wine.”
“That would be lovely,” we concluded.
A day later, Miguel came to me with his cellphone. He opened the picture gallery of the phone, and lo and behold, he had a picture of one of my drawings.
“I want this work,” Miguel said.
I told him it is actually a small piece that I did four years ago.
“Shoot,” he lamented, his face looking crushed. “But I want a bigger piece.”
“I can blow it up for you,” I reassured him. “All I have to do is sketch it out and paint it large. But it cannot be too large. If it is too large, it will look empty. I will find the perfect size for it.”
“I trust you will do that,” Miguel said, his beautiful Cuban face glowing.
“Give me a week or so,” I told him, “and it will be ready.
I stretched a canvas, primed it, and started working on it. I got myself two bottles of red wine from the local grocery. They are not cheap wines, because I wanted to enjoy the journey.
And yesterday, Sunday, it was almost ready when the phone rang. I debated picking it up and checked the name of the caller.
It was my brother, Niyi Afolabi, a professor of Brazilian culture at the University of Texas, Austin, where I also teach.
I picked the call.
I poured myself a generous cup of wine, and as I added finishing touches to the painting, he kept me company on the phone with his usual spirited, free-ranging conversation, from the defeat of Donald Trump to the true meaning of life.
“All that matters now,” I confided in him, “is the next painting or the next writing. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything I’ve painted is all in the past. It is the anticipation of what I will paint next—that’s what keeps me excited, because I don’t know what it will look like, or how I will do it. The good food, fine wine, and the company of great friends and the love of lovely women, these are already rotes. What truly is new is the next painting, the next writing. That is what keeps me looking forward to the rise of the sun every day. And, ah, also my granddaughter! She is the most lovely thing on earth!”
The picture shows the piece that Miguel requested. I would have asked him for $10,000 for the piece, but I am grateful that he asked for it because it will kick off a new series of paintings. I will start enlarging a number of small drawings that I did in 2016 for the new series.
Miguel wins. I will have a gorgeous African Art gallery named MOYO, and I also have a new series.