can you hear the drums, Fernando?

in art •  9 months ago

definitiveplan.jpg

The drawing was from the perspective of someone driving through the woods, a deer caught in the headlights. The theme was common. It should have been ordinary, but something about it terrified me. It was more about what you couldn’t see than what you could.
I rounded the corner and saw a succession of paintings of Little Red Riding Hood. Again, they could have underwhelmed. The model the artist chose looked contemporary, punk-rockish. She didn’t have tattoos, but in some pieces, a nose-ring and attitude. The art made me curious about the artist, a Spaniard from Majorca named Rafel Bestard. I was curious about how he selected his models. Were they friends? Women he’d seen on the street? I wondered if he was in love with any of them. Caravaggio was in love with a prostitute he used as a model for a few paintings. Her name was Fillide Melandroni. Caravaggio and a pimp named Tomassoni (who was either in love with Fillede or wanted to run her game) had beef. After weeks of threats in the streets and brawls in bars, they set up a tennis match as a pretext to a duel.

On May 29, 1606, they fought on a tennis court in Rome. Caravaggio got the better of Tomassoni and tried to cut off his balls. He bungled the attempt but severed his femoral artery and Tomassoni died. Caravaggio, who had a rap sheet a mile long, had for years been protected by powerful families who were his patrons. But the killing of Tommasoni crossed the line. He had to flee to Naples.

After looking at Bestard’s picture and reading his bio, I was sure he was nothing like Caravaggio. No one’s ever been like Caravaggio, before or since. But I was intrigued.

In the series of paintings, the girl in the red hood is being pursued by a wolf, just like in the fairy tale. Each got more interesting, the relationship between the girl and the wolf more intense. When I got to the last painting, I was blown away. The woman was squatting, urinating, an angry expression on her face, the wolf standing behind. She was claiming HER territory. Bestard had been toying with this the whole way and I wondered privately if he was going to be bold enough to go for it. The result, as I’ve heard described better by someone else, was both “surprising and inevitable.”

I was in the Toronto Convention Centre. I was working north of the city and my best friend, Gilles Marini, was in Toronto to do an appearance at a woman’s convention in another room in the massive facility. I had a couple of hours to kill and luckily there was an exhibition called Art Toronto where they brought in different galleries from around the world to showcase their star clients. There were galleries from Berlin, London, and Beijing. Bestard was represented by a gallery from Barcelona named Galeria Contrast.

I wanted to buy his work, but got prudish about the Little Red Riding Hood series. I wussed out. I understood Bestard’s work was powerful in a feminist sense, but I wondered if that level of boldness would be seen as perverse sitting on my wall at home when my kids were having play dates. Basically, I was afraid of being judged. Out of curiosity, I checked to see where the piece was now. I'm happy it is in the personal collection of a female president of a major Canadian university.

The only other time I’d bought art in my life was from my good friend, Ellen Harvey, when she was starting out and struggling. I knew Ellen was a genius and believed in her. More than that, I liked what she did. I’m not an art snob or expert. I just like what I like. And I really liked Ellen Harvey, Rafel Bestard, and Helen Flockhart.

Ellen has since become a superstar in the contemporary art world and I couldn’t be happier for her. There was another painting of Bestard’s that was in a gallery in New York I was interested in called, “Definitive Plan.” It was huge, almost five feet by three, and showed a woman in a red hood (a different model) soothing a half man/half wolf. Homo homini lupus (Man is a wolf to man) vibe was something I was into since I first read Freud.

In “Civilization and its Discontents.” Freud wrote (besides weird shit about man being more excited about peeing on fires then creating the fire itself) some very dark shit about who we are as people. I quote, “…men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus… man is a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.”

Holy shit. How’s that for a take on “What’s human nature? Are we generally good, as Locke suggests, or evil, like Hobbes?” Freud went next level, Dahmer wearing a 'Ring of Gyges' style.

I decided to pull the trigger and buy the painting. It was exciting. I felt a bit like a big shot. Those who know me know I don’t buy clothes, cars, or stuff like that. My car is over ten years old, it runs great, and I’m good with it. A pathetic (and little-known) fact about me is I’ve worn the same pair of Levi’s or same Adidas sweatpants to work every day on "Gotham" for the last four-years straight. They ain’t broke. Don’t need fixing.

By the time I pulled the trigger on buying the painting and figuring out how to wire euros to Barcelona and all, I was in San Diego starting work on “Terriers.”

My contact person in Barcelona was Victor Castañeda. We went back and forth about routing info, prices, mutual respect for Rafel, etc. and because I wrote my first email (with the help of my dad) in Spanish, he assumed I was fluent. My Spanish sucks, but my dad’s is insane. Off-the-boat Kerryman that he is, he’s worked in Mexico for over forty-two years and the man’s brain has been completely rewired to where he dreams in Spanish. I shit you not. I bet when he’s listening to someone in English, he's doing the translation into Spanish and then back to English.

“Terriers” was an incredible job (and it’s own book to be sure), but we were insanely busy. The hours were long. I wired money to Spain, was expecting information on when my painting would be delivered to San Diego, and kind of forgot about it. Clearly these things don’t go UPS or Fed Ex, especially for a painting so large, it requires an expert art shipper who custom-builds boxes to protect the pieces and navigates customs for you and all the other BS.

Two weeks after wiring the money and sending off a few emails to Victor, I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything back, so I called Victor on the phone. I told him I hadn’t received any tracking information. He was confused and said he would look into it.

This is an example of our correspondence:

Donal,
He intentado llamarte a tu teléfono pero ni siquiera ha dado tono de línea, no sé si lo tienes desconectado.
Dime por favor cómo está el asunto de la pieza con Fernando.
Aún necesitas que te haga llegar toda la información de este asunto??

Victor.

The dude Victor hired in New York to transport the painting to me was named Fernando (Blank). Apparently, that’s what he did for a living. He knew all the galleries and dealers and had a workshop in Brooklyn.

These emails went back and forth with no satisfaction, so I called my insurance company and actually reached out randomly to a precinct in Brooklyn near where Fernando's last known business address was.

After getting bounced around a bit, I ended up getting on the phone with a Detective. He was incredibly cool. I think he just kind of liked the sound of my story, because he was willing to run around the block to check out the dude’s address for me. He called me back to tell me that the place was boarded up and empty.

While the Detective was away on the wild goose chase, I googled him and was blown away. This guy had been decorated for an act of incredible bravery and saved a bunch of people from getting killed. He’d been shot in the line of duty protecting a building from a mad shooter. It was all over the news. I felt embarrassed I was wasting his time.

“Nah, not at all,” he said. “Happy to help you out, it’s just not really my area. Tell you what, though, I can run this guy’s name through some databases I have and see what I can pick up.”

We'd just finished filming a scene on Ocean Beach when my phone rang. It was the Detective. “I can’t tell you much,” he said, “but there’s a guy who lives in New Rochelle who has the same date of birth who’s up on a drunk driving charge. His court date is a week from Friday. I got a land-line number for you if you have something to write it down…”
“Thank you, Detective.”

We broke for lunch and I went in my trailer and called the number. On the fourth ring, a man answered.
"Is this Fernando (Blank)?" I asked.
“Who’s calling?”
“My name is Donal Logue.”
“I don’t know anything about Donal Logue… “ I sensed he was about to hang up, so I said, “Listen, Fernando, you have a piece of art I bought from a Barcelona Gallery. It was supposed to be shipped to me over a month ago and it’s been radio silence ever since.”
“I don’t know anything…”
“Hold on.” I said, cutting him off. “When I said you have the painting, just know I know you have it. I’ve had private investigators following you. How’d you think I knew you were up in New Rochelle? How'd I get this number? So when I ask you a question, just know I already know the answer and the only thing I’m weighing is how you choose to respond.”
Bam.
He hemmed and hawed.
“I know you're up on a DUI charge next Friday and the security firm I’m working with and the police would be more than happy to show up to the arraignment and use Article 155 of the New York Penal Code and humpback your DUI case with a Grand Larceny charge. You'll get a two-fer in the same day. Won't be good for you. By the way, they know the judge scheduled on your case.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then I heard a man crying.

I had come in hard with the hammer and chisel, now what was required was the brush.

“So a drunk driving, huh? I’ve been there before. I quit drinking in ’91 actually. If you show before trial you’re hitting meetings, they may look at your case favorably.”

“It’s just so hard to quit.”

“To be hiding out, getting hammered, waiting in New Rochelle for some judge to decide how much jail time you’re facing sounds a hell of a lot harder to me than going to a meeting and getting your life back on track.”

“So you quit?”
“Yeah, I did. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I decided enough was enough and I skipped rope anytime I felt skeevy in the early days.”
“What’s your name again?”
“Donal Logue.”
“Oh yeah, shit. The Bestard painting.”
“Is it still in good shape?”
“Perfect. It's beautiful. I'm looking at it now. I could have sold it, but didn't. So where’s this supposed to go, San Diego?”
“Yes. And if you prove to me it’s been shipped by Wednesday of next week with a picture and a tracking number, I’ll call the dogs off.”
“Promise?”
“Promise. And I promise you can get better.”
“Are you from San Diego?”
“No, long story. I was born in Canada, but I grew up in small towns on the Mexican border.”
“Like where?”
“Calexico, El Centro, California, Nogales, Arizona.”
“Nogales?”
“Yeah, it’s south of Tucson on the border,”
“I know. I grew up in Nogales.”
I looked at his date of birth the Detective gave me. We were both born in 1966.
“Where’d you go to elementary school?”
“AJ Mitchell.”
“Mrs. Guitierrez’s class?”
“Holy shit,” he said, “Donal?”
“Fernando (Blank)?”
We’d been friends in fourth grade.
“Jesus, do you still have crazy red hair?”

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Wow. You weren’t kidding when you introduced yourself as a storyteller. And you’ve had a full life to draw on! This is an amazing tale. I’m genuinely curious how Fernando is doing now!

LOL, ok note to self...never piss you off. Just shows you how small the world can really be.