DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Art, friendship, music and nature

Just when I think I can’t stand any more sadness, in comes a wave of joy: an Alfredo Arreguin painting I’d never seen before.

Everything is alive in it: fantastical salmon, ocean froth, pelicans winging across a sky full of stars in infinite colors. This poster glitters and vibrates like music.

Which makes perfect sense. Arreguin, a world-renowned Mexican-born painter who lives in Seattle, donated this work to a nonprofit music festival in Port Angeles.

“I paint with music playing all the time. It’s a part of my life just as much as painting,” the artist told me. Yes, this famous man called me right back after I sent him a Facebook message.

He likewise responded to Port Angeles-born James Garlick, cofounder of Music on the Strait, when he was asked if he might share an image for the 2021 festival poster.

There are several reasons why the salmon are Arreguin’s chosen ones. First, “I love nature. Going through all of these horrible nightmares,” as in the pandemic, “I find refuge,” he said.

Arreguin began painting salmon some 40 years ago, inspired by fishing trips with his friend Raymond Carver. Carver’s widow Tess Gallagher is also a close compatriot Arreguin has known since the 1960s. They met when the artist, having just finished his Army service in Korea, was working in a Mexican restaurant in Seattle.

Both Gallagher and Arreguin were students at the University of Washington — she as a teenager, he as a 20-something veteran. He remembers her coming into the restaurant and saying, “I have a dollar. Can you give me some tortillas and beans?”

“I always gave her the deluxe meal,” he said.

On the occasion of Gallagher’s marriage to Carver, Arreguin presented the couple with something straight from his heart: a vivid painting of salmon airborne between sea and sky.

After Carver’s death in 1988, Gallagher helped establish the Raymond Carver Room at the Port Angeles Main Library. Arreguin’s portrait of him is there.

That was the first Arreguin painting I laid eyes on when I moved to the North Olympic Peninsula in 2006. Since then I’ve discovered his odes to Frida Kahlo, his jungles buzzing with wild cats and monkeys, his orca whales arching toward the mountains.

“As a kid, my favorite thing to do was get away and play in the woods. My father punished me by sending me to the forests of Guererro. It wasn’t a punishment. I was in heaven,” he told me.

His home life was not peaceful. Arreguin was befriended by an American family in Mexico City; the mother encouraged him to come to the University of Washington, near where they lived.

Arreguin did move to Seattle; some years later he was drafted and sent to Korea to serve there from 1956 to 1958. He also saw Japan — and Japanese art became a strong influence.

He returned to Seattle to work and attend university; he graduated with a master of fine arts degree in 1969.

As an artist trying to earn a living, Arreguin “had a lot of trouble. All I had in my head was these professors telling me all this stuff. There was not much of me in there,” not yet.

He kept making drawings, then paintings, then gallery shows. His work has since been celebrated at art institutions from Cadiz, Spain, to Washington, D.C., to his native Morelia, Mexico.

Next month, Arreguin has a show of new work at the Rob Schouten Gallery in Langley. He and Gallagher plan to make the trip to Whidbey Island for the opening of the exhibition, on display Sept. 1-27.

I ask his age, he tells me he’s 86, and I involuntarily blurt, “Wow.”

“I say that every morning,” he replies.

“What saves me: my painting, and music. I live in this wonderful world … how can I ignore the beauty, you know?”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com. Her column runs the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The next one will appear Sept. 1.

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