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Irene in Brazil
Watercolor on paper, 4" x 6", $20

One of the three watercolors of the paintings Tom would paint when in Rio. Tom never imagined he would get a commission off the Internet. Sure, he had a big site: 500 megs chock full of paintings and artwork. Usually Tom discarded the con-man e-mail — but this time it was different. Olympio insisted that Tom paint his daughters, and even sent the money up front. Quickly Tom booked a flight to Rio; it was January. He had an old friend there he could look up if things turned suspicious.

Character three woman teenager response from the girls, Experienced desire into the subtle and richly. Your character is a worldly guy and has seen tits before.

This is the beginning of the great collection of figures in landscape. Tom's earlier landscapes were sometimes deliberately devoid of figures. He would compose on the spot and finish the work in a few days. Now he can spend a good week working up the compositional figure in the landscape. The drawing turns into a sepia watercolor and then into a oil painting.

The Story

The Commission

Tom never imagined he would get a commission off the Internet. Sure, he had a big site: 500 megs chock full of paintings and artwork. Usually Tom discarded the con-man e-mail — but this time it was different. Olympio insisted that Tom paint his daughters, and even sent the money up front. Quickly Tom booked a flight to Rio; it was January. He had an old friend there he could look up if things turned suspicious.

Three days before he was to leave, Tom discovered that he needed a VISA from the Brazilian Consulate in Washington. The U.S. government had clamped down on Brazilians coming into the country by requiring them to get a VISA while still in Brazil instead of at the arrival airport, and charging $100 worth of finger printing and photo on top of it. A U.S. couple had been fined $1500 dollars for making rude gestures into the camera while being photographed and finger printed after arriving in Brazil. Tom rebooked his flight and went about in earnest planning the compositions of the daughters. He created three watercolors of possible compositions. For three weeks he ruminated over the lay of the hands holding a little flower. Once in Rio Tom saw the five-petal yellow vine flower he would paint, growing on the hillsides. Cactus also grew on the steep sides of the rock, spiraling around the grip it had as if looking for another foot hold.

Planning the Work
Olympio never let on that he wanted anything special from the painter, but insisted that Tom make all the decisions. Tom saw new possibilities open up; already he had been painting portraits of young beefcake and cheesecake with local landscapes in the background, signaling new directions for his work. This new work stimulated him beyond the power of the peopleless landscapes Tom had become known for. His first landscapes had evoked docile popular scenes that offered a quiet place for the viewer to go. They presented no people, even though off the canvas the scene may have overflowed with laughing faces and flowing arms as the season sweltered to its climax. Tom chose a favorite movie, "Black Orpheus," to supply the backdrop for the girls’ portraits. He wondered: could film become flesh?

The Paint Box
The canvas would be 12" x 16" for all three of the girls’ portraits. The girls, just out of high school, were eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-two. Olympio sent snap shots electronically for Tom to work from. Tom rebuilt an old paint box to hold the Masonite panels while they still were wet.

Alalouisa, the driver, greeted Tom in Rio. At least fifty chauffeurs with cards and four times as many family members waved and cried at the site of their loved ones arriving on Brazilian soil. The driver was as old as Tom's father. Dressed in black Bermuda shorts and yellow playboy shirt tailored like a T, he showed a smile that made his guest feel welcome in a gay sort of way. His big nose let on that maybe he imbibed a little too much. Though Alalouisa seemed happy and gay, the way he pushed people aside to get out of the crowded reception area revealed a mean streak lurking. Quickly he and Tom made their way around Guanabara Bay to Copacabana. Tom was very familiar with the landscape, having flown around it for a month in his flight simulator. Although the simulator did not have “The Redeemer” atop the highest mountain, Tom knew exactly where it was in relation to Centro, Ipanema, Lagoa, and Sugar Loaf.

Getting Up
The driver stopped. He spoke perfect English, but never told Tom who Olympio was. He backed the car into a very tight spot on a dead end side street, half way up one of the mountains of a hill at the southern end of Ipanema. The driver took Tom's full loaded backpack and insisted he take the carry on — but Tom refused, thinking there was no way he could let this old man carry anything. Tom thought the two of them were headed towards one of the million-dollar penthouses that lined the beach, until they passed the last one and continued on the steep hill into a darker path. Tom thought then of organ transplants done on tourists, but Alalouisa calmed him. He had a way about him, as if he would put his life on the line. The light of noon made the path before them more inviting. The natives peered out from corners. The houses got poorer or more pieced together. Tom realized they were not heading to the penthouse, and asked Alalouisa what was up. He stopped, turned straight to Tom, and said that Olympio was the big man of this favela, "The Carioca." Tom did not know of the favela, but he did know the poor lived on the hillsides, free of rent or cares. This was the Rio Tom planned his portraits around. He never imagined that he would be escorted into a land forbidden to tourists unless they wanted to wake up missing a body part. Or dead.

Olympio Vasconcelos
Tom started to worry about his commissioner’s intention. How could he work in such squalor? Old men were lying on the ground with feet that looked like shoes. Their clothes were black with dirt. But there were little children playing, and occasionally a pretty girl, cleanly dressed, going about her daily chores. As he peaked into their homes, the people looked to Tom like people from a land long gone. Instead of the shacks made of wood in "Black Orpheus," these hovels used a light, extruded baked red terra-cotta building block with lightening square holes running the length of the 5"x 7"x 8" brick. Concrete held the structures together, and when finished with a skim of concrete they looked like any other home — except they were never finished. Any finishing was relegated to inserted ready-made windows with factory painted aluminum white edges. Everything else was brightly polished aluminum, fabricated into everything from doors to gates to vents. Finally, after what seemed to be a thousand-foot hike straight uphill, Alalouisa stopped in front of certainly the best hovel — or one with the best bare bulb street light and jerry rigged wiring dangling about. “This is the place,” Alalouisa announced. The large crowd that had gathered dispersed almost immediately after an off hand comment by Alalouisa. He and Tom went into a sitting room with a whirling ceiling fan. Olympio immediately came in, threw his arms around Tom and kissed both cheeks. He apologized for the accommodations and added that the view was still a million dollar one, as we looked down on the high-rise penthouse patio towards the crescent shape beach of Ipanema. We were much higher than any of the normal buildings; Tom's legs ached for three days.

Staying Up
Olympio was a little man, as old as Alalouisa, and like him spoke perfect English. Tom and Olympio joked about things they had said in the numerous e-mails exchanged, and Olympio apologized for deceiving him into thinking he lived in a penthouse. A man came in with a cold native drink. Crushed lime and vodka, or distilled cane alcohol mixed with sugar. Tom and Olympio sat in lightweight, padded chairs and sized each other up as the ceiling fan whirred overhead and Peggy Lee sang from the boom box. Olympio was needle eyed. His tan ran deep and his belly looked pregnant from drinking. His nose was long and mashed up against his face; it seemed mostly nostril. His black eyes bulged from their sockets, one clear and the other blood shot. He wore his gray hair like a Caesar. His nails were exceptionally manicured. His clothes combined tank top and plaid shorts with the customary flip flops. Olympio was a cultured man. Even though he lived in a shantytown his interior featured Portuguese antiques and religious objects. A shrine of Saint Francis graced one wall. The main furniture consisted of a couch flanked with side tables, and two stuffed side chairs made of tan Naugahyde around a glass coffee table. A double painting of an abstract butterfly hung on the only wall that did not have a small window in it. Tom liked Olympio, and soon became comfortable with his station. Tom had traveled to many strange places on commission, but never one as strange as this. The arrangement held together only by the love of the commission on both the commissioner and the artist’s parts. They chatted at length about where Tom would work, and decided he would work in the guest bedroom just off this main room.

Onita's Food
Before Tom could get settled in, Onita arrived with her companion. Onita was Olympio's ninety-six year old aunt. She had fuzzy red brown hair, typical patterned housedress and wrinkled face and limbs. There was no hiding where her bones were. How she got up that hillside would be anyone's guess. Olympio said that he took care of her, paid for her apartment in Flamenco; he mentioned the church she built in the jungle. She walked up an even steeper hill every fortnight to attend mass with the poor that lived around the church. Olympio also mentioned the homeless black girl she took in as a child — found on the street — and now was a doctor. Later Onita would ask Tom to do a drawing of her. First taken aback by the forward nature of the request, he finally warmed up to the idea.

The food Onita brought would be the only food Tom would enjoy during his stay. Somewhat trapped by the commission, he would enjoy the beaches from afar. Onita’s roasted chicken and rice sat out in covered Glad containers until eaten. The fare included pot roast, steamed okra and similar vegetables, mangos, papaya, jack fruit compote as well as fresh jack fruit and a small round yellow fruit that was dark pink on the inside. A biscuit was presented as a special home made specialty, small sticks with an essence of anise. All the fruit ripened with an inviting smell. The favela had no running water, no toilet, and no electricity except for the mish mash of bare bulbs along the path. People cooked with bottled butane that looked as if it had been refilled just after the Second World War. Men played cards under the bulbs at night, playing on a table wrapped with strings to hold the cards. Olympio showed Tom the soil pot that somehow got taken out daily. A flowing stream used for bathing provided a fantastic substitute for the beach. A large tub had been made out of the universal extruded red clay block, complete with seats. So cool and refreshing it was to sit in mountain water up to the neck. Tom wanted never to get out. The hotter the temperature, the colder the water. He could regulate the cold incoming water with the warm water in the pool till the temperature was perfect. Getting out, letting the breeze dry his body, set him up for another batch of the lime juice drinks that came endlessly from the servants.

The Servants
It was strange to meet the servants. Olympio clearly sat on top, and they worked to do his bidding — along with some general joking, like they were all equal. All the men were thick armed, big and strong. They spent their free time outside the home working out on makeshift bars and ramps, making the scene like a gym. They seemed out of place doing little errands around the compound. The men brought linseed oil and paint thinner for Tom, picked up laundry for Olympio, and supplied any and all things so that Tom and Olympio never left the mountainside. The servants even found a small guitar made out of a gourd for Tom. The slightest request was delivered the next day, from chocolate for Olympio’s wife to little outfits for his daughter.

Killing Your
Guns shots rang out at a normal time for gun shots, the fine line of time between night and morning. It happened right outside Tom's window. He jumped, hit the floor and crept over to the window, noticing bullet holes here and there from past events. Who got shot? News arrived slowly as the servants, now very armed and dangerous, ran one way or another speaking quickly and with precision. It would be during the afternoon siesta, on the patio that launched itself out over Olympio's hovel, that Tom would hear what happened. A mother and her two children had died. Olympio's men had done it. It seemed to be a case of mistaken identify or friendly fire. The mother was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her children, early risers like her, were on their way to see the sunrise. Up from behind, the opposition attacked. The deaths were a most regrettable event, one that did nobody any good. Neither Olympio nor his henchmen seemed to care as other lesser servants got rid of the bodies out of the corner of an eye on the verandah. Drinks all round; weapons vanished.

Painting Your
Daughter Nude
That day, Olympio introduced his daughters. Each one resembled him, but their mothers were nowhere to be seen. The girls spoke no English, and talked with their father as if they were his girlfriends. Hugs and kisses, scantly clad divine figures who lacked for nothing as long as it was a delicate sarong hiding a tiny thong. Tattoos and piercing abounded, through the navel, eyelids, ears and even nipples. The girls chatted among themselves as Olympio decided who would be painted first and what the background would be. Tom saw Olympio as Gauguin composing his canvas. Tom told of his new direction of painting beefcake and cheese cake poses of any and all comers. He had painted an older woman as her younger self for the local newsletter at home. The woman wrote a column about food, so Tom made the artwork for the column’s title. He portrayed its author as a young woman with the crops and animals that made for a good diet in the background, surrounding her face. The bottom half of the watercolor portrait did not get printed: she was nude from the waist up. Tom had often said that clothes type a work so fast it almost takes a Herculean effort to get the clothes right for a timeless portrait; nudity solves the problem instantly. Olympio liked the idea, and then and there decided that his girls would be painted topless. The canvases would stop just where the thong started. Olympio joked that here where all were deeply religious, there had to be a limit to what the girls could bare. Excited for the good fortune of dropping in on such an excellent connoisseur of a patron, Tom quickly looked to see his daughters’ reaction. Nothing. Beautiful girls that wanted to pose topless. The girls did not care. They knew it was just another fun fantasy their father offered. They all looked light of skin, with long blond hair down to their elbows, blue green eyes and round face, girlish with a large forehead and pug nose. They were called Sheala, Maria and Catrina. Catrina was the oldest, a little bit larger than her sisters. She was talented at playing the guitar and drawing cartoons of the locals. Maria was fun loving, a dancer in the Rio Revue and Carnival. She was thin and petite. She was tall, but she did not have the curves of her other sisters; her form was grace. Sheila was the Girl from Ipanema without the attitude. She loved to look and be looked at. She engaged people with a smile. She exhibited all the features of all the Brazilian races. But Catrina was by far the real prize of Olympio, for she had his brains and the dark side of something behind the scenes that was larger than all the rest.

Giving the Painting
What It Wants
The next day Tom wandered around the hillside with Maria, looking for suitable backdrops. It amazed him to walk along a seemingly straight down side of a cliff, keeping close to the narrow path that was flat but ever going up. When looking at the huge rock outcroppings that made the landscape of Rio distinctive from afar, it was impossible to imagine such pathways existed, pathways that may have been used by the first natives. Lizards broke the silence. Tom heard no birds. Maria said there were monkeys around. Hugh yellow and florescent blue butterflies lingered. Beetles with iridescent green bodies flew in place like balls in space. From time to time bright red dirt piled up from the bugs below the surface. It was this same red dirt that colored the extruded clay bricks. The landscape was old green. The lush jungle had been around, slowly holding on to its original color but fighting a losing battle. The real green, the exciting green, could be seen only at the growing tips of the plants.
Tom settled on three views based loosely on views he had derived from "Black Orpheus." One had the girl lying down, her head on a pillow of rock. Just above her head a complete drop off showed the built up city of ten story white buildings popping up from the narrow gap between two enormous rock loafs. Another composition took place on the plateau of one rock looking at another sugar loaf form in the distance.
The whole region consisted of loaf type rocks sticking their necks out of the ground waiting for eons for all that surrounded it to weather away. These rocks were granite, hard enough to stay put while nature did its thing. The third composition was of the bay from the top of a loaf. The girls were fun to work with. They posed for me in my room, mostly clothed as I worked on their features and only topless when necessary. Their father and his men joked about what was going on, but nothing went on except painting. Each evening, sipping beers or drinks, eating fried sardines, little meat drops baked in bread or shrimp on a skewer, Olympio would marvel at the progress and proclaim the paintings beautiful every day. Tom looked on the paintings as a good beginning to his new manner or series. While he painted he continually remembered what his master, celebrity portrait painter turned AAA society portraitist Ralph Wolf Cowan, said while Tom learned his manner. Tom was trying to return to his free and easy old master style. He looked for a quick sketch of a painting, masterfully brushed using line and stippled color shading to get the biggest bang for your time. Tom imagined a whole series of young girls painted for mementos of a wonderful visit in paradise. His brain running away from him, Tom could now become the celebrated artist of Ipanema that Olympio envisioned. He was always reminding Tom that Ipanema was ripe for the picking. The day dreams were shot down when Tom realized the folly of the artist: never really being satisfied, like a rich man never happy unless he was getting richer.

The Hot Long Walk
Everyday was the same in the favela. Tom would wake up at first light ready to work as soon as the light was bright enough, working methodically until ten. Then he and Olympio would walk around the favela and surrounding areas. Olympio was a god in this part of the world. He seemed above any law. Nobody approached him that did not go through one of his servants, who always were there in the bushes, in the shadows. Even the drug crazed lower men, men who had problems, men who were unkempt, watched out for Olympio. Occasionally you would hear what would sound like a bird call but all the while it would be lookouts announcing this, that, or the other. After a good long walk they would retire to the patio for drinks and then a meal at 12:30. Tom would work or take a nap making at least another good go at the canvas before the light settled down and the day’s work was done. In bed by 8:30, it all started again the next day. Olympio did do business at night. He slept until ten, occasionally getting up sleepless. Late at night you would hear Peggy Lee. One night the CD players got stuck on one song and it was almost first light when Tom walked in to the adjoining room and turned it and the lights off. Tom was never bothered by the fortress of men guarding the hovel. Portrait painters are always being given exceptional powers to do almost as the master. He lives as part of the master while painting him. Olympio was too old and ugly to paint now but he still afforded the powers to his portraitist. Even his daughters could not go and do what Tom did. Tom did not pry either. It was more likely Tom was in his small room painting as the men divided up the drugs and counted stacks of money. Somehow Tom was no threat, more like a good book to be picked up enjoyed and then set down right next to a huge deal being arranged where men died and vast wealth was exchanged.

No Drugs
Funny to be in the middle of such craziness and not have the bounty. For one period over several days, Tom was alone in Olympio's den. Accustomed to having a little snort or smoke around to stimulate inspiration, there was none to be had, nothing. Not one roach or rock or pill. Tom had to resort to scraping a bong that had already been scrapped and that did not do the trick. Olympio always carried a small sample of the very best of everything. Freely used prudently and never overindulging, he seemed master of his domain. But when he left the favela a cockroach had to go somewhere else because the area was sterile of drugs.

I Read, You Paint
Tom was nearing the end of his stay. Two portraits were done and the third had only some details of the background to be completed. Tom worked hard at giving each work the time it needed. It was tantamount to respect the time needed for a good result. If a background needed a little time at the same time of day or type of weather, you had to wait until it was time. This gave Tom time to work on several personal paintings. With enough canvases started there was always one that could be worked on.

Vision of a Simple Life
Tom had been in the favela for five weeks now. His daily routine was so simple. He lacked for nothing, spending his time thinking big thoughts and wondering if his applications would rise above the milieu. It was crazy to think he could just stay there. He would have to eventually go back down that hill with his big wad of cash, and apply it to a bigger mission. The success of his art depended on a delivery campaign akin to a well run ad campaign. How could he be aloof enough to not let the campaign show and articulate enough to make it work? Olympio had no advice. He was doing his job. His ideas were regular enough. He executed his ideas with what could only be described as a Brazilian viciousness, the same ruthless business dealings that drove the country's history. Olympio needed no authority, he just used his vast knowledge of who had power and surprised them with his own ingenuity. Where government, business, and military officials used the same instinct, Olympio applied a brand of business stranglehold devoid of scruples. How he entertained artistic thoughts seemed impossible to imagine. Tom was privy to the latter but never to the former. He just guessed.
Tom needed a higher level. At least he thought he did. It was just a new idea he had. Maybe surrounding yourself with the very best advice sounded good — but was it good? There was no magic bullet. It's better to work hard to learn as much as you can rather than to depend on your born brilliance, wandering through a created life melancholy. Tom may have seemed unhappy, but he was not. His work, like children born, grew up and found homes of their own. But they were never as great as one wished.

Mind Your Own
Just before Tom left, Olympio told him to take the work with him and deliver it to a framer in New York City. Tom had recommended the Datt Brothers as the best framers in the world. Italian wood carvers with original gold leaf finishes duplicated the great frame. Tom would take the work with him and frame all of them, shipping back the three daughters and one landscape to Olympio. It was a goodbye that was a continued hello. Almost setting the date for return, almost forgetting to leave and just remain, Tom did leave and had the framing done. A month and a half later Tom was puzzled why he could not contact Olympio. Time and time again, no news arrived. He exhausted all his leads and finally started to think the worst. He did not want to get the news from the newspaper. The paintings now hang in Tom’s home waiting hopefully for one of the daughters of Olympio to call.
The End


Beautiful Rio
Alfred Gray
Bell, London 1914

Rocinha Favela

Chiquinta Gonzago


[Note from Ed: An incongruent point of view runs through the piece. Sometimes you say that Tom did such and such, and then you say I did such and such. It will work better if you choose one point of view then stick with it. I’d go with first person. I would also title the piece “The Daughters of Olympio.”]

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