José F. Grave de Peralta
Miami Marinas and Caribbean Scenes:
More Than Meets the Eye
The location of Miami on both a river waterway and the open ocean directed my first attempts to capture the "fluid" element and challenged me to literally transform the dry materials of my color pencils and, especially, the pastel crayons into what seemed to move in wet prisms of light.
No small challenge, to make those static powders flow and -- most importantly -- to reflect in them, like the waters of the mythical Salmacis, for Narcissus, his image. Of course, in my marinas it was the small dinghies, the sailboats, and/or the occasional trees or buildings who wanted to see their lovely reflections in the water.
The docks at Dinner Key in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of the city soon became almost an open-air classroom for me, and during the 1980s I often spent entire days there with my boxes of dry pastels and a portable, wonderfully handcrafted wooden easel, putting the magic powders on Canson paper to create a huge portfolio of Miami Marinas. My sister Maria encouraged me tirelessly, comparing my theme and techniques to those of Quinquela Martin, a well-known painter of old boats and sunsets of La Boca, in the Port of Buenos Aires. My cousin Frank and his wife Rosita purchased some of the pastels exhibited on this page, and together with my sister's "patronage," they played no small in the making of the artist I am today. (See image of The Snowgoose, below.)
With pastel and pencil, the hand pressure applied to the point of the painting medium is something like the tip of the rays of light projected from inside our eyes and minds when we set out to make (in this case) a river or boat scene appear on the paper. No computerized graphic drawing or painting software can allow a human being to do such a thing-- as the keyboard or screen "touch" mediums produce the prefabricated "line weights" or color thicknesses that create their semblance of things; but the human hand and its tact, its pressure and sensitivity are mutated and prevented from essentially touching not only the paper or canvas surface, but reaching the beholder of the image, making touch with that person.
All of this opens a case for the defense of a return to handcrafts, and to a way of thinking and decisionmaking for human beings which has its base in the "weighing" of values, of balancing next to each other, for more holistic reflection about things. Often I think several of my nieces cringe when they hear me talk about the importance of cursive writing and penmanship as they educate their children, or about the benefits for them of keeping a handwritten diary -- after all, most elementary school curriculums by now eliminate these old practices. And when I encourage these same nieces to consider that their young ones will think differently, more humanely, perhaps, as a result of both holding a pencil or crayon to paper and having their pressure on the instrument become a voice --- I know they must think my color pigments from my Coconut Grove / Dinner Key , portable easel days, forever twisted my reasoning.
Comment from owner of this pastel :
"Your “Marinas Period” was so in the spirit of the times-and yes the act of touching, feeling conveyed in the mirrored bay waters and in this painting the turbulent weather engulfing "The Snowgoose" sailboat -I loved it!!! There is something so magical about those coming thunderstorms in Miami, the smells, sounds and the drop in temperature, I always look forward to those."
19" x 25"
Miami River Mural Painting
Mural of the Miami River
4 ' x 12 '
oil on canvas
Commissioned byMeland, Russin,
Hellinger & Budwick, P.A.
The Miami skyline depicted in this original oil painting commissioned by the law firm of Meland, Russin, Hellinger & Budwick in 2006 is a composite of “on-site” sketches drawn from different locations along the Miami River and of my own readings and reflections on this subject. From left to right, my vision begins at the Seybold Canal
and travels downriver. The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple is featured prominently, with its bold pyramid structure on the top. On the far right of the mural, the Miami River passes under Brickell Bridge by the Miami Circle, as it merges with the waters of Biscayne Bay.
The figures in the foreground are those of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León and two Tequesta Indian youths, as they might have looked when the conquistador first came to these shores with his galleons and horses in July 1513, in search of the mythic Fountain of Youth. De León kneels in reverence, holding a scroll with painted emblems of the fountain and of Our Lady of Loreto, after whom an early Spanish mission was
named which stood where the Hyatt Hotel is located today.
Other symbolic details in the mural include a manatee, a Jewish synagogue, a lobster fishery, and a group of figures conducting a baptism ceremony in the River. The Tequesta youth presenting a conch shell to the European explorer stands both as a living symbol of this land’s welcome to all newcomers and my interpretation of the
old and new “Mayaimi” as a place of shelter and life.
C A R T A G E N A Sketching Trips
In 1982, upon graduating with a Master in Spanish Literature from the University of Miami, I chose Miami, Florida as residence, where my father and maternal grandmother were living at the time in the southwest area of the city. And while I secured several gratifying teaching posts at Miami-Dade Community College, focusing on Humanities and in Spanish, my focus was on drawing and painting the whole area of the Caribbean coasts and islands, and so I began a series of sketching trips to places like Martinique, Guadeloupe, and especially Caratagena, Colombia, from whose notebooks and full-scale drawing compositions this particular scene comes. While some of the characters and props of this scene came from direct, on-site croquis done along the docks of this wonderful seaside city, some elements even came from my onsite sketches along the Miami River in Florida. (This particular work is part of a private collection now, of a close relative of my brother-in-law Gerry. I am thankful to this collector for posting my pen&ink work in her Facebook Page in 2022).