Encountering the Artist: A Random Experience in Spain

by Nora on July 8, 2010

His name was Toro Bravo, and although I’m not sure exactly what he said, very little was lost in translation.

the ominous doorway

As I walked through the narrow cobblestone streets of Alcala (a town 50km outside of Madrid, where I was the house-guest of a lovely Spanish family for a week), I took in everything I could. I smelled the delicious food wafting out from the nearest tapas bars, listened to the sounds of children playing and adults socializing and enjoying the afternoon, and gawked at all the amazing buildings and historical features that are commonplace here in Europe, but oh-so-foreign to my Canadian eyes.

Then, on a relatively empty side-street, I spotted a non-descript doorway, through which I could see countless pieces of artwork. Just inside, an elderly man with long hair and an even longer beard sat on a chair, sketching.

doorway

Standing across the street, I was mesmerized. This man had to be photographed. The tiny dark art gallery of sorts obviously contained hundreds of works of this man – who unto himself was a work of art.

Feeling a streak of shyness, I sidled up to the doorway in a way where I couldn’t be seen, to read the sign on the door…drats – all in Spanish, of course.

I stood outside Toro Bravo’s doorway, working up the courage to go inside. I’ve had this feeling before; one of overwhelming shyness, not knowing what would happen if I went inside – whether it would be amazing or a complete flop. It would have been immensely easier just to keep on walking and enjoying the sunny day. And yet I was rooted to the spot, unable to move.

But this is what travel is about for me; pushing myself beyond a comfort zone, satisfying curiosities, and expanding personal boundaries. I realized if I didn’t go inside, I would forever wonder what this man – and this tiny art gallery – was all about.

With that, I stepped inside, and in a combination of broken Spanish and charades asked if I could take a look at his art. My primary motive was really to get a picture of the artist himself, but I figured I had to at least have a look around. I only hoped that I wouldn’t become the victim of a hard sales pitch.

My hopes were gratified when he cordially stood up and with a bow invited me to come in and walk around. I soon discovered that one room opened into another and another, and each room was covered – floor to (and including) ceiling – with artwork. Many of the canvases were piled one on top of the next; there were thousands of pieces of art in this tiny gallery that most people would walk by without a second glance.

Toro's artwork

I gawked at the oils and acrylics, with all manner of styles and artistic messages, while Toro simply continued to sketch on his pad. My primary motive was still to get a picture, and I was still fighting a bout of shyness about asking.

I said in Spanish that his artwork was beautiful, which was apparently an invitation for Toro Bravo to start speaking. He stood in front of me and addressed me in his calm and quiet – but strong – voice. He had a message, a passion; something that was obviously a lifelong journey and mission.

Although my Spanish is horrible, I picked up on his philosophical and existential message; one of a mind-over-matter theme, not without its share of conspiracy theories, but much of which I identified with on one level or another. He obviously relished a chance to speak to a new face, and my periodic “si”s and nods of approval were enough for him to continue on for a good 15 minutes.

He didn’t even seem particularly phased when he realized that I don’t speak Spanish fluently, as I think he knew that I understood his sentiment while he continued to educate me about the many decades of experience he had amassed. He pointed to books with his image on the front (presumably written by him) that further outlined his expertise and thoughts, and other books and articles written about him sitting on a table.

Finally and suddenly (but not curtly), it was apparent that Toro Bravo had said his peace, and was happy for me to continue to browse or leave, as I wished. I asked if I could take a picture, and of course, he was more than willing. He made a few faces for the camera in a playful attempt to screw up the shot at the last second, and after a few laughs, sat patiently while I took some “serious” shots.

Toro Bravo, in all his glory

I emerged from the dark gallery to the afternoon sun and heat with a huge smile on my face. I had faced a fear – if even a small one of shyness – and came out not only with a few great shots, but a personal encounter that despite language barriers, spoke deeply to me, and shall forever remain in my memory.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julie July 8, 2010 at 9:23 am

In China, in 2006, I was walking through Liu Li Chang, an area in Beijing with many stores filled with porcelain statues, painting supplies, clothes, toys, painted fans and more than I can remember. On the adjacent street there’s one store after another of musical instruments, violin store here and percussion store next.

I wandered into a store/room covered from wall to wall with hand painted scrolls in all sizes. The painter and his wife invited me in and sat me down in the back room for tea and told me all about their daughter, and her successes in the US, and showed me her college graduation picture. This couple’s welcoming nature and the way the paintings transported you to green, lush riverbeds or mountains with old crooked trees is something I will never forget. And something I never could have planned for!

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2 Xpat July 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Very interesting.. and the artist himself is indeed an art and a portrait.. I wish you share more personal info about the artist just to pacify my curiosity.. 😉

Cheers

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3 theprofessionalhobo July 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

@Julie – Thanks for sharing. Those are the travel experience that last a lifetime in memory.

@Xpat – I wish I could tell you more about the artist, but I couldn’t understand that much of what he said! Next time I go to Spain (and believe me, I’ll be back), I’ll be sure to have a little more Spanish under my belt, and I’ll visit him again! (smiles)

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4 Cindy July 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

Nora,
I love your story, you really capture the essence of the experiences many of us travelers are searching for, and the feelings of shyness towards inserting yourself in someone else’s life and culture. But so often these are by far the most memorable moments of traveling. Well written!

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5 Andi July 9, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I didn’t want this story to end! This guy just oozes coolness. I would have loved to have heard what he had to say. That picture of him is awesome!!!

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6 theprofessionalhobo July 10, 2010 at 5:22 am

@Cindy – Thanks! I was truly in my bliss…both in living – and retelling – the experience!

@Andi – I would have loved to know more about what he said as well! I think though, if I spoke the language, I may have found his message a little over-the-top. Maybe in some ways it’s better that I only got a general grasp of it!

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7 Kay Anderson July 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I loved your writings on Vaughantown & the Spanish Artist!. Now that I’m home on Mexico I need to get organized & put together my pictures & thoughts, thanks for motivating Me!

Kay Anderson

Please consider a Baja Break once you are back on this side of the Globe!

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8 theprofessionalhobo July 14, 2010 at 1:31 am

@Kay – Thanks! You were one of the many awesome Anglos I met at Vaughan Town! (I hope you’re feeling better, by the way). And thanks for the offer…don’t forget I’m a Professional Hobo, so I’ll probably take you up on it! 😉

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9 Erin March 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm

It is thrilling to read this article. I lived in Alcala for a year while in school and had the pleasure of meeting Toro Bravo while I was there. I stumbled into his gallery sort of like you did and went back many, many times after that. I also brought friends and relatives who visited me in Spain. I purchased one painting, my mom bought two and I also picked up a few for friends. Throughout my times browsing through his work he would often chat about matters of spirit and ETs. Very very amazing to listen to. He also wrote a book that he gave me-also in Spanish. If anyone ever randomly is in Alcala they really need to look him up. He made a definite impression on my time living in that great little town.

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10 theprofessionalhobo March 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

@Erin – Wow: It’s awesome that you also met Toro Bravo! What a small world it is. I too loved Alcala, and would have enjoyed spending more time there. It was so charming! And with characters like Toro to “discover”, it’s priceless!

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11 Nate May 31, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I was lost walking in Alcala and literally the same thing just happened to me. Saw a hole in the wall gallery, went inside, and found Toro. He invited me to look around and then I cam back to thank him I asked his name. He said, “Toro Bravo” and I realized he had painted all of those beautiful paintings. Very cool

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12 Nora June 1, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Hi Nate,
That’s so cool! I’m sure Toro Bravo hosts all kinds of interesting experiences like ours. Nice to know he’s still around and sitting quietly in his gallery!

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