A long, long time ago in a place called Sarasota, Florida, I started messing around with watercolor. My roommate Rick brought home a cheap plastic paint set that we used to dabble with to augment episodes of altered consciousness. Eventually I graduated to a student set of tube watercolors and brushes. My work was somewhere between what I had drawn my whole life (drawing was my "thing" growing up), and what could be described as the school of Bad Roger Dean. My employment and most of my spare time was devoted to the guitar, and through that I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who was an old-time Sarasotan - the kind who remembered the days well before it became a tourist mecca. Floyd lived in a large Spanish-style building downtown that was formerly the Mira Mar Hotel. He shared this eccentric, rambling abode with a German artist named Flo Singer. Flo was a watercolorist. By and by, I was invited to visit, and went over with my guitar. The walls were covered with art - lots of watercolors including Flo's unique work (influenced by Egon Schiele), but I remember most vividly the instant I spied a small vertical landscape. Probably no more than 8"x10," it depicted a building on a hillside with a wild foreground and sky. I was stunned, and wasn't even sure it was a watercolor until Flo confirmed it; I had never seen a watercolor like that. It was signed, somewhat enigmatically, "Valfred." I enquired about the artist, and she told me he was fabulous, and that I was in luck: he would be doing a demonstration that Sunday night at the Hilton Leech Studio, at the time a nationally-known venue for visiting artists.
I showed up to a packed house, paid my $3 (!) and had to sit in the back. Valfred Thëlin was introduced by Katherine Rowland to lots of applause, dressed in a black velvet tunic and a pince-nez dangling from his neck. He certainly looked like an artist - longish hair swept back, and the proverbial artist's vandyke. He immediately engaged the audience and titillated us with a combination of art world anecdotes, Down East humor, borderline ribaldry, and personal reflection. He whipped out a 30"x40" watercolor board, quickly taped the edges, and continuing the patter without missing a beat, wielded a 3" brush making enormous slashes across it in cadmium yellow, orange, and red. I had no idea what he was doing. He then tossed that aside, and in about 15 minutes painted a startling sunset scene in his patented technique (and one which I made liberal use of for some time afterward). He sold it on the spot, and then went back to the big piece. The audience gasped as he squeezed an entire large tube of W&N phthalo blue onto the center of the picture. I knew then he was either a genius or a lunatic...maybe both. He covered most of the board, including the cadmium areas, until it looked almost black; it appeared ruined and I couldn't have imagined what was to happen next: while it was wet, he took a razor blade and palette knife and proceeded to carve out a mindbending depiction of Times Square at midnight - a cacophony of buildings, marquees, signs, people, taxis, the works. It was electric! I was totally blown away - I had never seen watercolor painted so boldly and aggressively. He ripped off the masking tape revealing the white border, and voila....it remains to this day the most dramatic watercolor demonstration I've ever seen. I was hooked. I wanted to do that. I signed up for the workshop right then and there, and that marked the real beginning of my watercolor journey.
"Painting may be abstract or realistic, depending on personal interpretation. I have no inhibitions about moving from what is called realistic to what is considered abstract, for I find relevance in both pertaining to the interpretation the individual may give a particular expression. What is real in my paintings is the image itself, which fuses with my ideas as I begin to paint. The painting seems to create itself during this process. Forms tinged with personal feelings remembered or hidden in my unconscious spring into being, and the painting unfolds into a world of light and depth with its own consciousness."
I took the workshop the next few years, everytime he came to town, and we became good friends. Val encouraged me quite a bit, and got me interested in artists I knew nothing about - Sargent, for one. I was able to stimulate him with my music. I signed up for a trip to Maine and Nova Scotia that he was leading with photographer Pete Carmichael - one of the "Two Arts" tours. He met the group at the Portland airport in a lobster costume, and that pretty much set the tone. We had a blast...the whole group (about 20) painted and shot pictures of that dramatic coastline, hitting most all of the famous places like Peggy's Cove, Monhegan Island, the lighthouses, etc along the way. I was already a decent draftsman, but it was on that trip that Val taught me how to really sketch on location. He did this everywhere we went, and at night entertained us in the local pubs, or the two of us went out exploring. He printed up a book of the trip containing his sketches, a number of which featured me. The late photographer Margarette Mead was also on that trip, and he did a sketch of Margaret and himself carrying me down the street after twisting my ankle during a night of carousing. He did another of me playing my guitar somewhere in Nova Scotia, and yet another of me sitting in with a band at one of the hotels.
On a very rough boat ride to Monhegan Island.
I dedicated a painting to Val, and during the demonstration related some Val stories HERE.
A thread on the WetCanvas! site I started about Val HERE.
In addition to the credited shots, photographs of the Thëlin gallery sign, Val on the Oregon coast, and the last portrait are by Shirley Hummel. Used with permission and many thanks for her fantastic work!