My One and Only Bradshaw
There can be little question that I was fated to meet and become a friend of celebrated multi-media artist Robert Bradshaw, whose recent death at age 90 I am now saddened to report. Along with the sadness, I find myself a little bewildered that his passing was not marked with much (if any) public fanfare—Bob had long been an award-winning stalwart of both the Carmel and Palm Springs, CA artistic scenes, his work gracing some of the finest galleries in California and abroad. Nevertheless, Bob was retired and significantly older. He is survived by his longtime companion, Angelo, and I get the distinct sense that, with advancing age, the two (quite understandably) retreated a bit from the social activity demanded by the artistic milieu in Palm Springs, where Bob passed away.
Then again, Bob was always an enigmatic spirit who relished the wide success of his atmospheric, unique multimedia paintings and cared fairly little for the more glamorous elbow-rubbing that came along with the thrill of sales and gallery openings. Wry & dry of wit, gentlemanly to his very core, and wise in a winsomely mercurial fashion, Bob was a marvel. The story of how we met and became friends is truly one for the proverbial books.
After living for a year in Europe in 1993, I returned to the USA and moved almost immediately to California, scanning the Western “horizon of all horizons” for new opportunities and meaningful life-adventures in San Francisco. That city was still inhabitable by the hoi polloi in 1994 and I was able to find an apartment (in the then-newly revamped-and-revamping Hayes District) and a job quite easily. At the time, I was working as a waiter and barista at a fantastic three-level restaurant housed in a stately old Victorian on Diamond Street. The place was called “Ryan’s” and its namesake owners, Michael Ryan and his wife, chef Lenore Nolan-Ryan, decorated their popular eatery with some of the quirkiest, most brooding, and enchantingly surreal artworks I had ever seen on display in such a setting. I commented upon the superb quality of the paintings on my first day, in fact, and Mr. Ryan mentioned that these works had been created by their longtime friend, Bob Bradshaw, who lived a few doors down in their apartment building and who owned a successful home goods store on nearby Castro Street. At the time, Bob was painting as an enthusiast, rather than as a professional.
Fast forward to late 1996. I had left San Francisco for the quainter climes of Monterey, down the Central Coast, and had completely forgotten any initial remarks made about the paintings that bedecked the Ryans’ restaurant in the city. I had moved into an apartment complex not far from the heart of downtown Monterey and, coming and going as one does, I often noticed a slightly older gent in his 50s standing on his balcony directly above my own apartment, drinking his coffee (or martini) and gazing out at the beauty of the nearby oak grove. Being of a neighborly disposition, I waved and exchanged greetings whenever I saw him. Chatted about the weather or other niceties. We didn’t introduce ourselves beyond first names, but after a couple of months in the new place, the gentleman kindly invited me up for a home-cooked dinner. Lamb was on the menu and there was apparently an abundance of it. He couldn’t possibly eat all of it himself. The invitation was so friendly and casual that I was not inclined to beg off, so I dressed appropriately and went upstairs later in the evening to get to know my neighbor.
The moment I walked into the entryway of his smartly decorated place, something jogged my memory. Something I could not quite put a finger upon. My congenial host fixed me a drink and asked me to relax in the living room where we could carry on a light conversation as he worked diligently on supper around the corner in the kitchen. We made small talk about ourselves and our backgrounds, breaking the ice easily because we were both well-traveled and facile conversationalists. But something about his apartment’s decor continued to intrigue in a riddling way. I looked about, searching for clues in the very ether. What was it? After a few more moments sipping a Cosmo (the beverage de rigeur, then) and savoring the smells of braised lamb, the puzzle seemed ostensibly solved. The paintings on the walls—evocative and enchanting, like fever-dreams whispered by Hieronymus Bosch into the somnambulant mind of Salvador Dali—jolted me out of my cogitations.
“You know something,” I called into the kitchen, “the paintings you have throughout your place remind me very much of these works that decorated a restaurant I worked in a couple of years ago, up in the city. An excellent place called Ryan’s. They have virtually the same ambience, I swear. Sorry to say that I can’t remember the artist’s name.”
A grey-haired head, owlish behind round spectacles, popped briefly around the corner. “Not to worry. You have a good eye. The paintings you saw at Ryan’s in San Francisco were mine. I’m the artist, Robert Bradshaw. I painted all of the ones you see here, as well.” Then his head returned to the dinner preparations, having delivered that revelation in the most dry, matter-of-fact tone imaginable.
I nearly fell off my chair! What were the chances?
Needless to say, I had made a friend for life. Fortuna has her irresistible rewards … when she spins her wheel with an extra bit of serendipitous flair.
Over the ensuing years, Bob and I had ample opportunity to stay in touch and get to know each other better as both pals and artists. He bit the bullet and submitted some of his works to the very selective Carmel Art Association, becoming an almost instant success. I published my first work of fiction (a comic novel under a different nom de plume) to delightful cross-country reception in 2000, and Bob was as thrilled for me as I was for his watershed moment. It had been his dream sell his work at some point in life; he had started out as a professional illustrator decades earlier, so we had quite a few things in common.
Best of all, Bob took me under his wing for a spell and demonstrated his unique creative method, which involved a complex process of multiple India inkings on distressed canvas or hard board, followed by multiple ink-washes to uncover and reveal successive layers of visual atmosphere, followed by the later interpolation of his charming and surrealist figures and subjects. I was spellbound and fairly grateful to learn such a curious technique from a master—by that point, Bob had already become one of the most celebrated figures on the Carmel art scene. I have created a couple of works utilizing his style (combined with my own touches) but the time has not yet come to reveal them. Like Bob, perhaps I shall wait to unleash them when most of my many and varied other artistic projects have been achieved and the hour is ripe for a bit of a paradigm shift.
More than anything, Bob was crucial in terms of his ability to understand and respect artistry in another professional, especially from the standpoint of our friendship—a delicate balance often fraught with more than a hint of competitiveness and neurosis in the histories of other “friendly” artists, great and small. Believe me: artists and writers are just as notorious for not getting along as they are for establishing salons populated by their (usually) seething and competitive selves. Count me in, but count me out, if you catch my drift.
As the years went on, the one thing lacking in Bob’s otherwise contented, hermit-like existence, was intimate companionship. This void was filled when he met his life-partner, Angelo, in the early Aughts. I was so happy for him. Bob and Angelo relocated to Palm Springs not long after and we stayed in touch, regularly at first and then more sporadically. I was happy to buy one of Bob’s paintings before he moved South; it still hangs with pride of place in my home. In recent years, time and distance made our communication much more sporadic, but the lasting state of friendship was never in doubt. It was with great delight that I noted Bob’s even greater successes across the Palm Springs and Southern California art scenes in the years before his retirement.
There are at least a few dozen other marvelous “Bob Bradshaw Stories” I could rattle-off, but in honor of Bob’s own fondness for personal privacy I shall respectfully refrain. He revealed much to me about his background, exciting life, and the experiences that formed his inimitable character. Suffice to say, I am honored to have been his dear friend and mourn his passing, well aware that Bob lived a charmed private and artistic existence that would be the proper envy of so many across the wider creative landscape. To learn a bit more about Bob’s extraordinary gifts, as much of his past as he was willing to share with endorsement, and his ongoing legacy, have a look at the following gallery page, where his work is still featured and where it continues to thrive.
Arrivaderci, Roberto! Say “Ciao” to Federico, Giulietta, and Nino Rota in the Vast Beyond, where starlight fades and every mood of moonlight reigns sensuously supreme.
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