Let Pete Do It

After writing 30 books in 30 years, and hitting only .175 with publishers, I discovered an easier way to make art: Let Pete do it.

I asked my old pal Peter M. Hurley to drive out from Chicago to paint a jazz mural in my back yard in Denver. I didn’t do it because Pete and I go way back. I did it because he’s really good.

It took Pete and his sous chef Trish Ricketts two days to drive to Denver, and three weeks to paint the 60-by-6-foot fence in my back yard.

I was fascinated by the process.

Before he left Chicago, Pete sketched the long horizontal piece on his computer, gauging the dimensions by pictures I’d sent him by email.

Awaiting his arrival, I’d sealed the cedar fence, then Pete primed it and added a golden undercoat, and did what he called cartooning it.

He transferred his sketches via thumb drive into a sort of high powered slide projector.

Working at dusk and after dark, he sketched 20 figures onto the undercoat, in a rustic  brown.

I thought some of the unfinished figures were emotionally strong and satisfying without being painted in. Especially Beethoven hanging out with Thelonious Monk.

On the short back fence, Pete painted my favorite composers: Mozart looking over Béla Bartók’s shoulder, both of them marveling at Beethoven.

I love these close-ups of B.B. King and John Coltrane, especially how you can see Trane’s golden Otto Link mouthpiece even behind his lips.

What with my 3 a.m. wake-up to edit this news page, and Pete’s late-night cartooning, we missed a lot of time for remember whens — but we all remember what Robert Frost said about fences and neighbors.

Pete and I caught up during the afternoons — unfortunately for him, a three-week hot spell with temperatures pushing 100 every day.

When Pete took refuge from the sun in the kitchen, gulping ice-water, I improved the time by pointing out that none of the jazzmen were smiling, and maybe he should start all over again, and make sure they’re all smiling.

Never tell jokes like that to an artist.

Artists are sensitive types, I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know. I had all my nerve ends extracted when I became a news editor. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to care.

So that’s my story about playing Lorenzo de Medici: Hire an artist; tell him what you want, and let him worry about it.

Beats all the other gigs I’ve had in my life, that’s for sure.

(Courthouse News photos by Robert Kahn. All photos copyright Peter M. Hurley.)

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