At the tender age of five, painter Hugo Xavier Bastidas had already begun to concern himself with the precise replication of images by hand.
"I had never given it any thought. I really thought drawing was something all kids did and that they approached it with the same level of concentration I did," remarked Bastidas with a chuckle. "I didn't think of myself as an artist at all."
By age 7, his grammar school teachers in Paterson, N.J., began to take Bastidas from class to class so he could help teach his fellow students how to draw (by creating prototypes of images for them to copy.)
"O.K., then I sort of had an idea that I may be somehow talented at drawing, but still ... I didn't think much of it," said Bastidas.
"I fought being an artist for quite awhile," he recalled. "Now, I find myself unable to stop. I actually become irritable after awhile if I'm not at the canvas creating something new."
With this, the Ecuadorean artist, a youthful 44, drifted toward the view offered by the East Side apartment where he lives and works, preparing for two new solo exhibitions: the Jan. 9 one-man show, "A Rascal in La La Land" at the gallery of Bayside Community College and an upcoming show at the Nohra Haime gallery in April.
"I find so much of an artist's life is about timing, the right place at the right time. I've been very lucky and I've had great mentor s who have guided me along the way," said Bastidas. "They told me apply for a Fulbright (scholarship), I applied for a Fulbright. I was advised to get a tenure track teaching job, I did. They said, get a dealer, I looked for a dealer."
"It never occurred to me to question the road ahead. To think I couldn't do it. To think about the odds," said Bastidas. "I just did it and here I am."
But not without some initial indecision, almost having opted for a career as a psychologist at one time, a lawyer at another.
"For a while, I had just wanted to be something practical and I knew being an artist wasn't it," said Bastidas with a laugh. "I was the son of two factory workers. My father himself was a talented sculptor but he couldn't dedicate himself to it. He had to supportus."
Indeed, the artist's father, Hugo Enrique Bastidas, was an unusual man in more ways than one, having fled a politically unstable Ecuador following the death of his father, a high-ranking government official in Quito, the country's capital.
"My father rarely talked about Ecuador when I was a child," recalled the artist. "He had been driven to school in a limousine as a child. That was what his childhood had been like, yet he never spoke about the country with any sense of loss. He rarely spoke about Ecuador at all."
Bastidas' parents first fled for Manhattan, working to earn enough money to send for the rest of the family when Bastidas about four years old.
"I didn't know one word of English," he said with a smile. "It was tough at the beginning."
But, despite a rocky start, Bastidas lost little time, winning academic scholarships and enjoying a remarkably swift rise in the art world. He has sold almost every painting he's created, save those he's given as gifts. His work has been reviewed in several major publications. He's been featured in numerous one-man shows, including exhibitions at Hunter College, the E.T.S. Gallery in Princeton, the Nohra Haime Gallery, and the Courtney Gallery at New Jersey City University where he works as an adjunct professor, splitting his schedule with Manhattan's famed Art Students League, where he also teaches classes. Bastidas' work has been included in countless group shows including: the Silvermine Artists' Guild in New Canaan, CT; P.S.1 Contemporary Arts Center, in Long Island City, NY; the Roger Smith Gallery in New York City; the Museo de Arte Moderno de Santo Domingo, and the various group shows at the Puck Building in downtown New York. Additionally, and somewhat ironically, Bastidas was offered a hefty and prestigious commission to create a sculpture to be displayed in a major public square in Quito.
"I was to be offered a professorship, and lots of accolades. They thought I was going to settle down in Ecuador," Bastidas said with a rueful smile. "I didn't want to stay in Ecuador. I didn't want to be a big fish in a small pond."
Today, the only geographical leap Bastidas has had to make has been from New Jersey, where he worked and lived for years (in Jersey City, Weehawken and Newark, to name a few cities where he'd settled) to New York City.
"What can I say? My friends told me, 'Hugo, you have to come to New York already,'" he said with a laugh, looking out at his new stellar view of the Upper East Side. "It's pretty exciting, I have to say. It's been a pretty exciting time for me."
"Rascal in La La Land" will run Jan. 9-Feb. 18. QCC Art Gallery, the Oakland Building, 56th Avenue and Springfield Boulevard, Bayside. Call 631-6396.
©2000 Community News Group
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