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David Rodrigues the Artist
                     with thanks to Ed Cesena

One Saturday afternoon in 1996,  I walked into an art reception at a downtown shop in Oakdale, California. I was immediately floored by the expressive images and moody colors of the paintings that hung on the walls. The loose brush strokes were just enough to draw my focus in, but required me to fill in the gaps that would complete the jazz images that came together in my mind. Cool! That was the word that I used to describe my first experience with the works of the great artist, Ed Cesena.


I strolled around, taking in the artwork, wondering who had created these cool pieces, and then I saw him. He came over to me and introduced himself. “I’m Ed Cesena, the artist. Are you a painter?”, he asked. “Well, I’m trying to paint. I’ve been messing around with oil. I’m trying to find someone who teaches”, was my response.  He showed me around and spoke to me about the many works that were on display that day. They were predominantly jazz subjects. He was very hip for a 69-year-old man.  I was a young boy of 42 years. Little did I know at the time that this was the first of many years that would be spent in the presence of artistic genius.


He gave me his business card. It was a simple white card with his name and phone number displayed in red. “Call me. We can have coffee and talk”, were his parting words. 


Two months passed. One day I pulled out that business card and told my wife, “I’m gonna call this guy.”  I was very nervous, but I made the call. He said he remembered me. I asked him what he would charge me for a lesson. He said not to worry about that, told me to bring a photo of a subject I’d be interested in painting, and to come over to his place. He would supply the paint and materials. Just show up.


When I showed up that evening, he introduced me to his wife, Carol. “What did you bring to paint” he asked. I handed him a page from a magazine with a photo of marathon runners. We went to a back bedroom in the house that served as his studio at the time. There were two easels set up side-by-side with canvases on each. Plenty of tubes of paint were available. All was ready for my first lesson. 


I was expecting a talk on perspective , composition, color value, and all the components that make up a good painting. I’ve often referred to the lesson as the “Nike” painting method. He looked at me and said, “Just do it.”  That was the lesson. I watched and I imitated. 


After about an hour of this “lesson”, Ed told me that he wanted me to go home and paint three versions of what we had painted that night and bring them back at the same time the following week. 


I was ecstatic that night. Something clicked inside. I went home and told my wife all about the art lesson. Eagerly, I painted those three paintings and couldn’t wait to take them to my new art teacher.


With some apprehension, I approached the door at Ed’s home the following week with my three paintings in hand. He opened the door, looked at me, saw the three paintings I was holding, turned to his wife and said, “Carol, he did it!” Then he turned back to me and said,” I was just trying to get rid of you. Now I know you’re serious. I’ve never worked with anyone before. I’ll work with you.”


That’s how our mentor/student relationship began. During the next several years, we became less formal with each other. I couldn’t wait to get to Ed’s studio to see what he had painted during the week. He would ask, “what did you paint?”, and look at my new paintings, sometimes “touching them up”. I hated the touch-ups.  We became familiar enough with each other that I would tell him, “Don’t touch them!” He’d laugh about it. Eventually he stopped the corrections. 


Our painting sessions were always accompanied by jazz playing in the background. Ed taught me to appreciate jazz. He absolutely detested “smooth jazz”. The “real jazz” got him moving, and soon the brush would start making those strokes unique to his style. I named them “Ed lines”.  As he got lost in the process, I would stop my painting, step back, and watch the master at work. That’s how I learned - by observing.


Anyone who’d ever been around Ed for about a minute knows that he was a joker. There was always laughter during our times together. One of my favorite things that I looked forward to was the story within his paintings. He’d point to a man in a painting and tell me what that man was saying to the lady in the painting. Or, it would be a man telling another man what he thought of him. Always hilarious. Mostly not nice.


We entered art shows together, attended art club meetings, and drove to demonstrations that he led. We showed our work on the street, sharing the same booth. We talked about various painters. Ed would pull out a magazine or a book, and share a painting that he found to be interesting. Everything was art, and art was everything. He poured out all he could into me. He was selfless with me.  On more than one occasion I’ve been asked, “Do you know Ed Cesena?”, with the follow up, “Your work reminds me of his.”  What better compliment can I be paid? 


As the years passed, the mentor/protege relationship also passed. The connection became stronger.  Ed shared some of the very personal details of his life with me.  He encouraged me to do good, to pray, to seek God.  He was a very spiritual man.  He told me that he considered me a son. He told me that he loved me.  


I’m not sure why I was so fortunate and blessed to know Ed Cesena so personally. I look back fondly at those years spent together. The cares and busyness of life, unfortunately,  found a way of causing me to drift away from the time that we shared. The time in the studio became less, the jazz music faded. I last visited Ed in 2019 at an open studio tour at his home in Modesto, California. Time had worn down my hero. He moved slowly and sat mostly. Time is cruel. He had me pick out one of his amazing paintings that day. Something he often would do when I would visit. Of course I had no idea that it would be the last time I'd see him. Through circumstances I wasn't aware of, later that same year, he was taken to Oregon to spend his last days with his daughter where he passed away at the age of 91. God I miss him.


I've written all about Ed Cesena so that maybe you might understand a little about my development as the artist that I have become. I have developed my own style with his influences. If you ever catch me in my studio, you'll still hear the jazz, you'll still see the bright colors being laid down in swift strokes, and if you look closely with the eyes of your heart you'll see Ed standing beside me encouraging me on. 

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