Last year I took my wife down to San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua for her 40th. Our first day in country started with an adventurous, unplanned, drive to Granada. Needless to say there was a little stress, but it all worked out. We arrived in Granada and stayed at the Hotel Plaza Colon. We had a great room over looking the plaza. The plaza was filled with locals, vendors and tourists. As night descended on the city the plaza came alive and bustled with live music, dancing and an all out good vibe.
The next day we set out for SJDS, we had an uneventful trip to our next destination, the Hotel Victoriano. A beautiful hotel right on the bay with a room overlooking the water. After a couple of days getting our bearings, we were sitting at a table out front in the courtyard enjoying some drinks. Underneath the adjacent gazebo fresh paintings hung over a bannister, the canvas swaying in the afternoon breeze.
At first, there was no one around the paintings and one particular piece caught my eye. As usual with every place I go, the first thing I do is observe and take note of my surroundings. Initially, I perform a security assessment and make plans for "Murphy" to rear his ugly head. Basically, if "this" happens we will do this first with secondary and tertiary plans of action in the event our primary course of action doesn't work. Thankfully, but not surprised, our vacation was relaxing, memorable and down right fun.
Getting back to the artwork, I got up from my seat and walked over to get a better look at the paintings. The one piece I was particularly interested in defined itself as I stood in front of it. Painted in green oil base, the bamboo jumped out with majestic long strokes and infinite detail. After a few minutes of looking at it, the rest of the masterpiece revealed the ebb and flow of the precisely created lines and use of color.
There were about 7 or 8 paintings in total hanging and continuing to dry in the afternoon warmth. I turned around and walked back to join my wife at the table we had set roots in. Also, I didn't want anyone to think I had anything to do with these things blowing off the rail onto the ground or getting ruined somehow. As I worked my way through a few Tona's I couldn't take my eye off the Bamboo painting. I got up a couple more times and walked over to look at the others, but I always got drawn back to the one I liked.
Eventually, we got up and went up to the room to get ready for dinner. Our room overlooked the paintings and I stared down at them. A tall, young man walked over and started to take considerable interest in the art. This made me nervous, because I was working my sales pitch to my wife on why I needed that Bamboo piece. I couldn't come up with anything; mostly because I didn't need it I wanted it.
My turn for a shower, I reluctantly left my perch. As I turned to go wash up the young man left too; however, in a hurry. My shower took 60 seconds and I imagine this is why they invented the all-in-one shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Well, we didn't have that in our room so I had to make due with the what we had. I know why you don't use regular soap for your hair...not that I have much left.
We got dressed and made our way downstairs to have one more cocktail before setting out in town to find a place to have dinner. We sat down at the same table we had been at before. This time there were several men sitting at the table underneath the gazebo. Two of the men struck me as "muscle" and the other man looked like a bum. His hair was dark and curly with highlights of grey pulled back into a disheveled ponytail. His button up long sleeve shirt was rolled up to the elbows with three buttons employed. He had slacks on that looked like they were a few sizes to big. You know what I mean? His belt was fastened in a way where the pants bunched around his waist with his belt taking up the slack. He was wearing these black sneakers that reminded me of what the line cooks shoes looked like after months of soaking up the water, grease and food they stood in night after night. Not to mention his shoelaces were tied in a knot at the top to form a convenient slip on shoe.
My wife and I were definitely entertained by these men. They made catcalls to the women walking by on the sidewalk and made fun of the tourists walking out of the lobby. Then the young man appeared again, this time he struck up a conversation with the three men and they began to peel through the paintings. After a few minutes they shook hands and the young man ran off. He left the gazebo and headed up into the hotel and then came flying out of the hotel, double time down the stairs and turned right up the sidewalk and out of sight. About 10 minutes later the young man come back down the sidewalk past the entrance to the hotel and continued across the street to the bank on the other side.
When he returned to the hotel he started talking to a hotel staff member in bit of a frantic tone. Then he turns and off he goes again. When he returned about 30 minutes later he appeared to be relieved that the three-man wolf pack was still hanging out. Apparently, waiting on him. They begin to talk again and then the bigger guy of the three gets up and starts to gather up all the paintings. The cash transaction takes place and the art now belongs to this unassuming collector. DAMN!
The three men finish their drinks and get up and pile into their car and off they go. Now my mind is going crazy with questions. Who the hell were these three men? More importantly, who was the bum? Why was the young man so adamant about claiming every piece of art? And why did the 20 something year old dressed in adult garanimals?
Like my beer, the paintings were gone. Moreover, MY painting was gone! O well, off to dinner with my bride.
After dinner we strolled around town for a little bit and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap. We walked up the steps and into the bar and there was the art collector, or whom I assumed to be the man behind the money. He was hanging out with an older gentleman, a younger women and a toddler running around. I, assuming again, the older guy was the grandfather and the younger adults were the married couple with their child. Completely opposite of what I thought. The young man was the son, the young woman was the trophy wife and the toddler was the "love" child.
Not being able to let things be, I set up shop at the bar right next to them. I begin eavesdropping and trying to find my way to casually strike up a conversation. Sometimes, I struggle with patience so I turned to the young man and asked him, "Pardon me, I noticed you bought all those paintings down stairs. Who was that guy?"
The guy explained it was his father who had wanted all the art and introduced me to him. After the introduction and some small talk I started to tell him about the Bamboo piece and how much I liked it. The older man kind of skirted the topic and changed the subject. But I wasn't willing to let it go. I had to know who the artist was and why he needed every piece. After a few minutes of listening to the gentleman tell me about himself and his family dynamic, I found the right moment to ask him.
It turns out the gentleman was a medical doctor and I used my background in Pararescue to make a personal connection that I believe allowed him to let down his guard. He began to tell me that the artist was a famous Nicaraguan painter that lived and worked in Managua. He told me his name was Raul Marin, "He's the Nicaraguan Picasso!" He told me the guy was a brilliant artist. And every time he came across his work he bought up everything. "This art is an investment."
Enthusiastically the guy tells me about the artist and I could hear in his tone he was also a fan of his art and believed that he really was Nicaragua's equivalent to the Spanish Picasso. That's a huge claim, considering how important and renowned Picasso was and is to the art world. The only reply I could muster was, "Really?" He said, "O Yes, very much so." As he ran down the background on Marin and where and whom he studied art with, I was impressed. Not that I know anything about art and why/ how its value is appraised. Then he told me, "Soon you will not be able to find anymore paintings than what's already been created."
He told me about Raul Marin's life long struggle with drugs and how he is a full-blown addict. Now my first impression of Marin starts to make sense and why he looked liked a destitute bum that water and soap runs from. "He is basically addicted to any narcotic he can get his hands on, but Heroin seems to be his drug of choice. Raul doesn't have but a few more years, if that. And when he dies his art is going to skyrocket in value and need for any worth while collector to have in their collection." I thought that was a pretty bold statement. I'll guess we will see.
Then, I saw a bewildered look come over his face during our talk. Almost like an epiphany moment. He stopped and paused for a moment and said, "You know, this guy is an unbelievable artist defying addiction and he is still able to turn out such beautiful work. He should be dead, but drugs to him are like food and water to us. However, I don't recommend trying it yourself." There was a lot more to what he said about Raul Marin, but I seemed to have forgot a lot. Mostly because there was so much he knew about him and it was a bit overwhelming, the other had probably something to do with my buzz. And the year and a half that it took me to put this down doesn't help either.
Eventually, I brought up the Bamboo painting again and this time the Doctor entertained my interest. I told him about my observations of the security team Marin brought down with him and their behavior. That's when he told me about how his son had to go to several different banks in order to get the cash they needed to procure the art. The Doctor told me he was scolding his son to get the money and fast before anyone else figured out what was hanging on the railing. That was it; there was my opportunity to test the water. I asked him, "How much do you think that Bamboo paining would go for on the open market?" He replied, "I have pieces that range from $500 to $2500 (usd)."
Now I'm thinking, "Shit," what is this piece worth and am I going to get this guy to negotiate a price I couldn't afford. Who am I kidding, what would my wife allow to drop in order to secure it? With finesse, I asked what was the most expensive piece he acquired today? He told me one piece in particular was roughly worth $2000. I spent my career in Pararescue turning "No's," "It can't be done," and hurdling barricades to get the mission done. I was on a mission!
Leaning in and lowering my tone, "Is that $2000 piece the one I like?" He replied, "O No, that one is not for sale." Confused as to what he meant I started to let it go so I could plan my re-attack. I wasn't leaving without "MY" painting. However, would I be leaving with the artwork and coming home to divorce paperwork? I asked him if I could buy him a drink and told him how much I appreciated him taking his time to talk to me about Marin. The bar tender brought us our drinks and as I put the beer bottle to my lips I stopped and asked him point blank, "Would you be willing to sell the Bamboo piece?" The Doctor looked out across the bar and turned to me and said, "Sure!"
Now I am thinking is he going to use lube or a fist full of sand? Now I'm in a cold sweat waiting for the his asking price, he makes an offer I couldn't refuse. As any good negotiator does, I counter offer and hope his garanimal dressed son, who now has grown into a physical specimen, doesn't throw me down a flight of steps. The next thing I hear out of the Doctor is, "Cash?" Fucking Eureka!!! I am now the proud owner of an original Marin.
We made the transaction and settled into a long conversation about medicine, what I did for a living and life in general. Hell, I would have let him tell me how the Krebs Cycle works or why Zebras have stripes.
A few months ago, I reached out to a Nicaraguan friend of mine to enquire more about Marin. He told me Raul is a recluse, mostly because of his eccentricity but also because of his drug addiction. "And if in fact you have a real painting from this man, hold on to it. You have a true treasure hanging on your wall." There is still a lot that Nicaraguan's don't know about their homegrown "Picasso," and even less information on the internet.
I know value is worth what another person is willing to pay for something. I guess I am more intrigued by what is not known about this man. Unfortunately, Raul Marin is defying addiction, but for how long? How does that equate to the value and worth of what I believe to be an amazing artist, what he has gone through in his life? The Bamboo painting I managed to come home with and display in my living room is more than just a painting; it's a story of tragedy, despair and I imagine so much more. How can a person share such a magnificent gift with a drug that has not and will not return a dividend other than death.
I realize now that I didn't purchase a piece of art, I purchased a story about a man's addiction, his relatively unknown life and work. The value of life is immeasurable and its worth is priceless.