Crawl, walk, run – a principle that governs the universe for all able-bodied humans born into mortality. We might add to this sequence another step “run far” or “run fast” (pick your poison). Whether a four-minute mile or an ultramarathon, both are preceded with a vast amount of practice and effort just to get to the starting line. As an artist, I’ve put in countless hours trying to figure things out, but at age 39 the starting line is exactly where I’m at. The first leg of my race was a portrait of a snake. The inspiration behind the 8×10 oil painting is posted below.
I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of people, but none as subtly profound as Petty Officer First Class Alvaro Hurtado. We called him “Hurt” and oftentimes “Gus.” He was not the most vocal leader, wasn’t the model of physical fitness, and not the most dynamic instructor. My initial impressions of Gus were therefore somewhat ill-mannered and careless. My biased judgments, however, were futile unproductive thoughts that set me up to eat a massive piece of humble pie. As far as influence is concerned, Hurtado was a sniper who put a slug in my forehead – as if it were routine business.
Each person we meet is like a mine laden with gold awaiting extraction. The gold is there for the taking. Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do the panning, sluicing, dredging or underground blasting. As time passed I saw Gus not for what he wasn’t, but for what he was. I discovered what I needed to see, gold. I noticed that the GOLD he possessed, I lacked completely!
His attention to detail and quest for perfection stood out in many ways. For instance, the cover to his working uniform was starched and pressed to exactness, as though the cover itself was standing at attention. While many Sailors at the command frequently shoved crumpled uniform items into a gym bag, Gus made time to fold his t-shirts “boot camp style.” His penmanship was flawless. Each letter was strict and upright with textbook spacing and consistency. Surely a significant amount of time and effort went into mastering his craft.
Every time a Sailor checked out of Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI), Gus was the one guy to always ensure they left with a token of gratitude. It didn’t matter how low they were on the totem pole. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes he gifted a paddle which was painstakingly wrapped with his personal tools and talent. Others received a glass case containing contents that symbolized their role as build team leaders. Shadow boxes were carefully prepared for retirees. Markers were made available for others to sign a few words of good wishes or fond memories on the back of each parting gift.
I shall never forget the day that I stood in the back of the flag room holding a paddle that had just been presented to UT2 Samuel B. Kellogg. As the room cleared out, I proceeded to convey to Kellogg what a remarkable gift he had just received. I went on to express my judgment that Hurtado had a heart unlike anyone I had ever encountered, a heart that I sought to emulate. Somewhere in that dialogue, I choked up. I don’t recall if I was able to conceal the tears that streamed down my face, or if I even tried. One thing is for sure, I decided then and there that I needed to be more like Gus. I needed to ensure he left NEMTI with a personalized gift. I also determined that I needed to carry the torch to the best of my ability, that all departing shipmates were worthy of a few hours of my time so they too might receive a customized token of appreciation.
My talent lies in the realm of creative arts. As a child, I was somewhat exposed to fine art. I knew innately that oil painting was something I wanted to do at an extremely high level. I dabbled in many creative endeavors. I received a formal education in visual communications and web design. I excelled at photography and could hold my own with a can of Krylon. Unfortunately, when it came to oil paint I never took the bull by the horns. Oil painting requires many hours to execute a realistic representation. Every stroke of the brush must be deliberate and precise. I supposed that I could not offer a better gift to Hurtado than a painting, a perfect metaphor for everything I admired in him. I knew I wanted a subject that would require me to pay close attention to detail, form, shape, color, texture, and edges. I pondered for many weeks.
The solution finally arrived during Hurtado’s final presentation at a CPO 365 PME. His words led to a discussion in which our Senior Enlisted Leader Master Chief Haskins talked about the growing pains of personal development. Therein he made the comment, “When we grow, it’s like a snake shedding skin.” BINGO! At that moment I knew just what to paint. As a result, I presented to my friend, my brother, and shipmate, one of my first ever oil paintings on a very, very long journey to mastery. This piece is entitled “GOLF – ROMEO – OSCAR – WHISKEY” the phonetic military alphabet for the word “GROW.”
I will forever pay tribute the name HM1 Alvaro Hurtado for showing me a piece of manhood that I lacked entirely and for causing me to grow out of darkness into light as depicted in this painting.
Photo: Work in progress – 2nd of 3 layers applied.