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The best thing about traveling is the unknown, especially the first time we see someplace new, like when visiting Arizona last year.
On a sunny afternoon (well, ‘sunny’ probably isn’t a necessary adjective – we’re talking about Arizona!) I visited the Celebration of Fine Art in Scottsdale. In festival-style, the artists are on-hand to meet as you peruse the exhibits. What’s really special is that these artists commit to 3 months at the exhibit and actually setup their working studios while on-site! And if you know me, you’d know I could watch artists paint, sculpt, weld, draw, create …all day long!
I soaked it all in, spending time at each booth that beckoned me. I asked questions, many questions. I wanted to know mostly how they found their way to becoming an artist and how they chose their particular medium. The questions grew from booth to booth. Do you have family? How did you get away for 3 months to be here? Where did you study? Who inspired you?
I recall the painter of ballerinas. He painted on glass from the back side first and then on the top to create a depth of imagery and movement. And the woman who took old photographs from the turn of the century to create modern day pieces, almost bringing those people back to life. Just the thought that over 100 years ago, this child or that woman or this family group sat for a photograph and now their essence was part of a piece of fine art…fascinating!
At one point, I rounded the corner to another section of the galleries to see a wall of brightly colored and textured painted hearts. All sizes, endless colors. The artist, Tanner, was seated behind a table and working on a small painting. One of the large heart paintings behind him included a pencil sketch of a dog. Our conversation started with a question about the painting, which had to do with a charity he was working with for autism. We talked for more than an hour as I sat on a stool by his table watching him paint. He was genuine, open and our conversation flowed effortlessly. He exuded love and passion for his art, his family and his life. He shared with me the road that brought him here. He had been in extremely high risk jobs previously – bartending, a bodyguard to celebrities leading to a lifestyle of partying and some not so great choices. One day he realized, as bullets whizzed by him in a shooting, he couldn’t live his life in fear any longer. He went to work for a gallery and began studying paintings. He worked with artists who’s work he admired to learn technique. He painted and painted and painted until he found his style, his message. His heart.
At the end of our conversation, I noticed an unframed heart tacked to his wall. He’d painted it earlier while demonstrating to a group of school children. I asked if it was for sale, had the pleasure of naming the piece with him and watched as he signed it for me. When he stood to hug me goodbye I realized that he stood at least 6’6″ with a build suited to a bodyguard. I hadn’t even noticed his size while we talked, all I’d noticed was his spirit and his inner peace. He reminded me of the gift of slowing down and savoring the moments, the people and life itself – both through his story and through this sliver of time we spent together.