July 2014

Mr. Creative: Blueprints to Paintbrushes: Local artist’s opposing skills work as one

Author: Debbie Szpanka | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Gerry Diaz is a human paradox. His life, his work and his play are filled with opposites that flow together as one truth. Although born Gerardo Diaz in Puerto Rico, he didn’t learn to speak Spanish. Growing up in the hard-scrapple life of the Bronx, he abandoned the street games and would steal away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York City Public Library. As a young boy who witnessed domestic violence in his family, he now honors the beauty of women through his paintings. He currently works as a construction manager for the Town of Bluffton’s engineering department, often staying up after work until 3 a.m. as his mind freely flows with a paintbrush or drawing pencil.

“The paradox of the mind is a blessing in disguise,” Diaz said. “I believe it started out as a way to find beauty in a difficult surrounding. As I grew up, my art flourished in a way to see the world differently and reveal more beauty around me in every day.”

Diaz is a reserved man, limiting his outward conversation and expression; however, his mind is seldom turned off as he is always pondering his next drawing, the beauty in his daily life and how a random person or object would appear on canvas.

“If I see someone cross the street, I may stare as I admire how the light transitions between light and dark,” Diaz said. “To me, it’s a light game. I am also fascinated with human forms—the faces, the figures and idiosyncrasies of light and shade. There’s beauty in every kind of figure and face.”

Diaz’s journey to self-teach different mediums of art started in apartment #4G on Morris Avenue, where his babysitter’s son, Ralph, showed him the comic strip art he drew.

“I saw those comic strips and immediately said, ‘I want to do that,’” Diaz said. “I guess superheroes inspired me to discover what was beautiful and magical about each human. Everyone has unique physical properties, and I try to capture that on canvas.”

In his mid-teens, back in Puerto Rico, Diaz’s sketchbook became his best friend since his language and cultural barriers prevented him from fully engaging with his Spanish-speaking peers.

“I was a stranger in my native country. Besides the teenage girls who thought I was an exotic as a New Yorker, I was an outsider. I devoted those years to teaching myself art,” Diaz said.

He picked up an art curriculum, a book and art supplies for many mediums, including graphite, charcoal, pastels, oil and watercolor and spent a lot of time in his bedroom with his brushes. Even today he says that’s a blessing and a curse.

“I have a difficult time deciding what medium to use when I get an idea for a painting. I may have to draw or paint it in charcoal, watercolor pastel and oils and then decide what the best version is,” Diaz said.

Being a “ladies’ man” with a sketch book paid off. Diaz married his high school sweetheart, Ivelisse Fernandez. After high school, he started making money as a graphic artist in a large advertising agency in Puerto Rico. But when the economy shifted during the first Gulf War, he was laid-off due to corporations withdrawing their advertising budgets.

Jobless with a wife, two kids and a house payment, Diaz knew enough about drafting to get a job as an inspector, and then he “fell into engineering.” He eventually got a degree in construction management/civil engineering from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico to assure he would have a job less vulnerable to economic fluctuations. From there, he has worked in engineering firms and stays up late at night with his art. Diaz says he doesn’t notice when his brain shifts from concrete to abstract thinking.

“A Japanese friend of mine knows how to analyze handwriting. When he examined mine, he said my signature was both practical and artistic. So, I guess this is just who I am,” Diaz said.

As life imitates art, Diaz’s personal life took an unexpected turn when his sister married a Navy man, and he followed her and his mom to Beaufort. Working for municipal governments and private companies, Diaz said his “craftsmanship and hand” is all over the Lowcountry’s roads, boat landings, buildings and parks.

However, his artistic calling is getting louder, and his dream is to make a living with his art. The man, who has a full-time job, a part-time devotion to art, a hobby of learning more languages (French and Portuguese), and a pastime of teaching himself to draw with his left hand, now wants to push himself to retire in a decade so he can dedicate himself to his creative expression.

“I am never full artistically,” Diaz said.

Adding to the docket, Diaz is partnering with the Society of Bluffton Artists to teach its first bi-lingual class (English and Spanish) in September. The two-day acrylic training session is geared to enhance artists’ technique and styles and explore how one can manipulate the medium for different effects.

“I hope I can inspire someone as my babysitter’s son inspired me,” Diaz said. “I am proud to be able to teach in two languages. I certainly hope someone who previously didn’t take a class due to the language barrier feels welcome now.”

Ironically, it was Diaz’s language barrier which directed his path into a lifetime of art. In Diaz’s new venture as an instructor, it seems fitting this is another paradox in Diaz’s artistic journey.

Society of Bluffton Artists (SOBA)
Presents Bilingual Painting Class
Instructor: Gerry Diaz
September 17 & 18 ; 6-9 p.m.
6 Church Street, Bluffton
For more information & registration, call (843) 757-6586. Visit gerrydiazart.blogspot.com and/or www.sobagallery.com.

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