Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 28, 2006

Relatively creative

Father and son painters share an art studio and a new Stanford exhibit -- but follow very different muses

by Rebecca Wallace

On one side of a father-son art studio in Los Altos, paintings erupt with dashes of thick oil paint. Paris street scenes, an animated violinist, a portrait rippling with life: all are done with a fast, darting hand.

On the other side, the mood changes. Cool painted Madonnas dominate the wall, their eyes peering from otherwordly backgrounds. The approach is more deliberate, contemplative.

You might expect that the son, Robert Marosi Bustamante, is the one with the wild hand. Or that he became a painter after growing up with an artist, father Gilbert Marosi.

Both assumptions, though, would be wrong.

In fact, Bustamante was the one who got seriously interested in painting first, about nine years ago. He encouraged his father, who was retired and delving into various creative pursuits, to give it a try as well.

And Bustamante is the creator of the luminous Madonnas, which are an homage to his ethnic background. His mother, Cecilia Marosi (nee Bustamante), is from Nicaragua; he's taken her birth name as part of his own.

It's a diverse household indeed. For his part, father Marosi was born in France to Hungarian Jewish parents, and he chatters in Hungarian as easily as he holds conversations in Spanish with his son.

So the Madonna seemed a natural subject for Bustamante, who calls her "a bridge, culturally, for me."

He says: "She's Jewish and Catholic, and I'm bicultural and bilingual. I wanted to find an image that represented both in a contemporary way."

In "El Viento de la Madonna," she soars like a kite; in "Byzantine Madonna," she towers over a giant timepiece. She represents fertility, compassion, a guiding spirit, he says.

The studio itself is a bridge between father and son, an airy 1,000-square-foot space with plenty of room for both creative visions. The air smells of oil paint and orange-scented pumice hand soap, and a pug named Murray runs around sniffing ankles.

The studio is on the hilly property where the Marosis live. Bustamante comes down regularly to paint, but lives in an apartment in San Francisco that he jokingly estimates is one-fourth the size of the studio.

The two are also sharing space in a new exhibit at Stanford Art Spaces this summer, showing Marosi's paintings of Nicaraguan street scenes and Bustamante's of jazz musicians.

The show in the Center for Integrated Systems on the university campus also includes paintings by Nona Haydon, a Menlo Park artist profiled by the Weekly in April.

This is the first time father and son have exhibited together, apart from an open studio viewing. Their work, however, has been shown many places. Marosi's paintings, for example, are in galleries as far away as Quebec and Berlin. Bustamante's resume includes several shows in San Francisco.

Marosi, who is retired, threw himself headfirst into painting after his son gave him the taste for it. He's now a full-time artist, typically completing one painting a day.

"If you're in galleries, you have to work fast," he says.

Sometimes inspiration strikes like lightning. For Marosi's series of a violinist playing, he did about eight paintings in four days.

Although Marosi sometimes uses acrylic paint for backgrounds, he's mostly entranced with heavy, heady oil paint. He favors using a palette knife instead of a brush, sweeping on bumps and ridges that make his paintings stand out. He often works from photographs, but alters the images on his canvas, adding bright swoops of color and surreal details.

Looking at his paintings of the violinist, he says: "You want to get the movement, to project exuberance. I'm just taking a snapshot of what she's doing; I don't want it to be static."

He beams when asked about his free use of the palette knife. "I scratch, gouge, pummel. Whatever it takes to make it look like a performance."

Marosi says his influences include the Impressionists and contemporary painter Henry Asencio. He also enjoys the frontier scenes of painter Charles Russell.

Marosi shows off some of his own Wild West paintings, which are stored in yet another art room. "It's the Jewish Winchester House," he jokes about his sprawling property.

Sometimes, Marosi says, he works so fast that he doesn't look at the canvas.

As an example, he swipes a reporter's notebook and pen, and does a quick sketch of her without looking. It's not what you'd call a perfect likeness, but there is something about the nose.

Meanwhile, Bustamante is quieter but no less passionate about his painting -- and his teaching. He's a part-time artist, balancing it with teaching grammar school.

After 10 years as a bilingual inner-city teacher in San Francisco, he recently took a sabbatical to spend more time with his canvases. He also coordinates an art program through the Mexican Museum in the city. It has included teaching children about Van Gogh and working with them on a mural of sunflowers.

"That's what really makes me happy -- helping the kids," he says.

Bustamante will likely return to teaching in the fall, he says. Until then, he paints about six hours a day. Unlike his father, he works more slowly, focusing on more than one painting at once.

Bustamante likes to add texture to his paintings with other materials. He points out the glazed tissue overlay he added to one of his Madonnas, using tissue and acrylic paint after being inspired by a Renaissance glazing technique.

Another painting, "The Green Ghetto," incorporates a collage of newspaper clippings at the top, representing his life in the Mission District. Below are images of older bearded gentlemen who seem to be from decades past.

"My father's father was a Holocaust survivor," Bustamante says by way of explanation.

Bustamante's earlier paintings of jazz musicians had their roots in his days as a jazz radio DJ while he was a student at Chico State University. Other inspiration comes from the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo.

Bustamante's body of work also includes paintings of dancers and baseball players. He tends to alternate between these studies of movement and contemplative images such as the Madonnas.

The baseball players often have an ethereal feel as well, even as their feet blur with earthly movement. In a painting of the late Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella, the ballplayer looks up into the heavens.

"They're archetypal, mythical figures," Bustamante says.

In some earlier works, a painting/collage homage to slugger and first baseman Willie McCovey includes old newspaper clippings, as does a similar piece about Barry Bonds.

Now Bustamante looks at the latter work, then shrugs. "I don't think it'll sell."

What: An exhibit of paintings by Gilbert Marosi and his son Robert Marosi Bustamante. Paintings by Menlo Park artist Nona Haydon are also on display.

Where: Stanford Art Spaces, at the Center for Integrated Systems at 420 Via Palou on the Stanford campus

When: Through Sept. 14. The exhibit is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Call 650-725-3622 or go to cis.stanford.edu/~marigros. The artists' Web sites are www.gilbertmarosi.com and www.robmarosibustamante.com.

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