I’ve recently enjoyed a bizarre and mysterious series of events occurring through our Internet connection. I had been quietly remembering the guy I’d call my closest-ever friend, watercolorist Robert Landry (1921-1991), and feeling extremely sad that so many years had gone by without contact. I had only recently discovered it was too late.
Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Bob and I exhibited in the same galleries, participated in the same shopping center shows, and shared teaching workshop classes that I organized along the coast and other areas of California, in the Canadian Rockies, Yosemite and Grand Teton National Parks, and in Hawaii.
During my sad remembrance time, and through the Google Search window, I linked to a site called Ask Art. There I typed in the name Robert Landry, and I was thrilled to see one of my friend’s watercolors and a biography. At the bottom of the page, I noticed an invitation to anyone who might like to provide additional information about the artist. I submitted the following two true and vivid memories.
|“Robert Landry was a fantastic piano player, specializing in the ballads and up-tempo songs written in the 1930s and 40s. I’ve heard him play non-stop endlessly, without repetition. If someone mentioned a tune, Bob could play it. Fortunately for me, he didn’t have a piano at home, so he spent many hours at mine.”|
|“Robert Landry had a wonderful, quick sense of humor. We were teaching a class together at a small town on the north end of Oahu, Hawaii. Bob was pleased with his watercolor demonstration. He’d chosen to depict a Rainy Day and featured several people walking away on a road, carrying huge umbrellas. Their images were reflected in puddles. When he announced the painting was done, one of our students called out, “Mr. Landry, that’s not authentic. Hawaiian residents don’t carry umbrellas.” Bob smiled, winked at me, and replied, “Now they do.”|
Several days after I submitted my memories to the Ask Art site, I received an email from a lady in Glendale, California. She excitedly told me, “I was just on vacation and in an antique shop, hundreds of miles from my home. I purchased a small watercolor by a Robert Landry. I went on a web site called Ask Art, hoping to get some information about him, and I read your discussion group comments. Mr. Foster, I think I may have the very Rainy Day watercolor you’ve described!”
She sent me a digital photo of her treasure. Instantly I knew she did indeed have the one I’d written about. In fact to verify that, I located my own 35mm slide taken of the same painting just moments after it was completed. No doubt, she did have the original.
The mystery is that I’d watched Bob do many watercolors, and we taught together countless times, working with hundreds and hundreds of students. Why did I vividly remember that specific class day and that specific demonstration? Without hesitation I knew the answer and explained it to the lady in Glendale.
That May of 1970, Bob and I stayed in a guesthouse in the town of Kailua, Oahu. I’d arranged for it in exchange for one student’s tuition. Our format for a five-day class was that I’d do an oil painting demonstration on the first morning, he’d do a watercolor demonstration on the second, and so on. Then on Friday, the students did their own thing and Bob and I hoped to see some signs of what they might have learned.
On the evening before our first day, Bob and I discussed and agreed how common it was for art students to complain about things we were not responsible for and could do nothing about. “It’s too windy, it’s too hot, I forgot my easel, etc.” We chuckled and also admitted that the majority of our students may, unfortunately, be disappointed if their finished paintings didn’t look much like our demonstrations works, or like a photograph of the actual subject.
I suggested to Bob that for his demonstration the next morning, he feel perfectly free to be totally creative. I was curious about what he’d do and how the students would react.
The next day dawned warm and beautiful with not a cloud in the sky. For my welcome and opening remarks, I shared a favorite Albert Einstein statement: Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge limits us to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand.
Bob began his demonstration with a light pencil sketch of the scene before us. Reality included old buildings on the left and right, a road that curved into the distance, tall coconut palms, and a distant mountain. He announced, “I’m not going to try to depict this scene just like it is. I’m going to describe it as I imagine it could be on a rainy day.”
We heard students saying, “Did he say what I thought he said? Why is he doing that?” Bob and I knew.
When the sketch was done, he took the watercolor paper off of the easel and put it flat on his lap. With a huge brush, he soaked the top half with clean water. He then squeezed out a few drops of a gray-blue color and tilted the paper back and forth while saying, “Flow baby, flow!” He blotted a few spots with paper towel and said, “Perfect.” The next step was to blend in the colors for the distant mountain. As he did, he sang, “There’s no sun up in the sky, Stormy Weather, don’t know why my gal and I ain’t together, it’s rainin’ all the time.” The finished watercolor was a visual representation of the artist’s creative imagination. Bob was most proud of the imaginary figures carrying big umbrellas. Einstein would have loved it, as Bob and I did.
In the attachments, below, you’ll see the finished work, which I photographed just after he called it done. I’ll also introduce you to my friend, Robert Landry.
I can’t say if one of those students bought that watercolor but miraculously, thirty-five years later, it became the Glendale lady’s proud possession. She is not an artist but certainly appreciates imaginative originality when she sees it. Miraculously, she and I were led to connect so I could provide more information than she’d ever have expected. And I was able to relive my admiration and respect for my friend, Robert Landry.
A Rainy Day near Waialua, Hawaii
Bob Landry, May 1970