(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final installment of a three-part series on Downingtown artist Adrian Martinez.)Upon Downingtown artist Adrian Martinez's arrival in Washington he was taken to where he would work for the next few weeks on paintings for the White House.
"I saw all the preparations that had been made for the first time," he said. "The White House niches were gigantic white monoliths. My excitement turned to panic. I suspected that I might have that reaction. Examining what the White House carpenters had built I saw that the craftsmanship was absolutely extraordinary. The backs were an intricate latticework of welded one-quarterinch steel bar. On the front were formed thin sheets of plywood covered with primed ready to paint canvas. As a painting surface it was absolute perfection. Standing with several people who were responsible for all this I said, 'You have given everything I need, everything is perfect, so now the only limitations I have are mine.' Now the pressure was on me."
Adrian is anxious to start painting. He's already finished the under-drawing for both paintings. This put him well ahead of schedule, a good start. On the morning before he was involved in a meeting at the White House with various people responsible for the overall look of the White House during the Christmas season. "My part, the particular work I'm doing, relates to all the other aspects of this complex project. I can see that the whole environment will be stunning. In that sense it will be a very exciting and inspiring collaboration."
On Friday of the first week Adrian believed he had a major problem. "It was a disaster," he said. "The work was coming apart in my hands. I thought to myself that failure was not an option. I talked with Leah that night on the phone. I told her my painting was just horrible and she said, 'Adrian you always start a big project with great enthusiasm then early on you implode and claim the work is terrible, but in the end you always come through..' I had to admit that was true in the past but under the circumstances it did not make me feel much better."
Adrian would have another surprise the next day and it was a big one; he, along with Leah and their son Sebastian, were invited to spend the weekend at Camp David. "I know plans can always change," he said. In the world today anything can happen at a moments notice." As it turned out there was no world crisis that particular weekend and the Camp David trip did take place. "It was an extraordinary time," he said, "beyond imagining."
That weekend visit was followed by an invitation to visit the Oval office for Adrian and his family, including his parents. "My whole family was completely stunned. None of us will ever forget meeting the President that day and we got to share it as a family, it doesn't get any better than that."
Adrian then went back to work for another intense week of painting. The large curved surfaces he was working on proved a mixed blessing. "I was shocked when I realized that because of the shape I would only be able to see one third of the painting standing in any one position. Because of the months of preparation I arrived with the painting entirely in my head, but never being able to see the murals completely in reality was unnerving. It meant that my comprehensive vision had to stay in my head. It required a great deal of emotional energy to stay on track. Plus the physical strain of painting from the tops of ladders, or scaffolding and then scurrying down to take a look, or painting on my knees. On the other hand the very problem of the curved surface meant you could only experience them in time and space as you walked by. This I found very exciting."
But Adrian had a more immediate concern. The First Lady and a number of other people were going to visit that Wednesday to see his progress. Adrian said, "The Friday before I had crashed and burned, but by Tuesday night I was back on track. But one thing was clear; I was not going to make my self imposed two week deadline."
The big day arrived and as it turned out much to Adrian's relief everyone including the First Lady was satisfied. His stay had been extended and he felt that his work had turned the corner but there was one more difficulty in store for him. Because of the large bank of lights, the size of the work and the curvature of the surface, certain colors created a bright reflective surface when wet. "No matter how I adjusted the lights in certain situations all I could see was a dazzling shiny surface. I would mix the color I thought I needed on my pallet and put it where I thought it should go but I could not know for sure until the next day when it was dry."
Sometimes when Adrian returned to the hotel at night he shocked the doorman with his outrageous appearance. "Sweaty and covered with paint I'm sure I looked like I'd spent the night under a bridge somewhere," he said. "To make matters worse I had lost 40 pounds a few months before so my clothes fit like I fished them out of a trash can. I don't think the hotel employees had any idea what I was doing."
A typical workday had Adrian awake by 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. at the latest. "I couldn't sleep," he said. "Some days I was up at four. "I was at work by seven or eight in the morning. For lunch I would grab a piece of lunchmeat two pieces of bread and a bottle of water from a refrigerator. Then I would walk back to my office chair in front of the paintings and try to figure out my next move."
The last weekend in Washington Adrian spent at the National Gallery. He had just a few days left and many questions that he hoped the paintings in the museum could answer. "I was sitting by the door when the National opened first thing in the morning and six hours later my back was sore and I was faint from hunger. I thought it was lunch time but it was way past noon. All the paintings I had grown up with when I lived in D.C. opened up and gave me all their secrets. It was an epiphany. I was a human sponge. I had that experience before but never to that extent and not in front of those particular paintings for many years. I went to the still life section of the Dutch Masters. It was pure joy being there. It was like they were happy to see me."
With his work completed Adrian arrived home completely exhausted but proud of what he had accomplished in a few weeks. "I love challenging situations, projects that stretch me as an artist. Of course I like to be in my comfort zone as much as anyone, but I can't find out how good I can be unless I'm thrown into a situation where I have to be better today than I was yesterday. Artistically it's my moment of truth. I'm more excited by art now than at any time of my life."
Adrian then glanced out the dining room window. He's already thinking about his next