“Calle San Sebastián, Viejo San Juan”

“Calle San Sebastián, Viejo San Juan”, by Robert Leedy, 2001, watercolor and mixed media on paper, 20.375 x 28.375 in., Collection of the Artist
“Calle San Sebastián, Viejo San Juan”,
by Robert Leedy, 2001,
watercolor and mixed media on paper,
20.375 x 28.375 in.,
Collection of Tom & Sheila Leavey, Winter Haven, Florida


I lived in Puerto Rico during the early 90’s. I had a wonderful studio on Calle del Sol in Old San Juan. When I first moved to Puerto Rico, I had a small apartment on Calle San Sebastián which is one block up the hill – not far from Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, or simply, “el Morro”, the magnificent fortress built by the Spaniards in the 17th century. 

Calle San Sebastián is a quaint street lined by shops, bars, restaurants and residences. At night, especially during festivals and holidays, it is a favorite party locale for young people. This also translates to – noise. As romantic as the place is, it is not exactly the perfect spot for light sleepers. The crowds don’t really get started until after 11 p.m. and go on until the wee hours. Fortunately, I had a very loud air conditioner – a window unit – in my bedroom which drowned most of the noise out. It was not uncommon, to discover beer cans, urine or vomit at your front doorstep the next morning. Although often frustrating, it was still an interesting and enjoyable place to live. The only other negative you had to get beyond was terrible traffic coming in and out of the Old City at any given hour of the day or night.

“Calle San Sebastián, Viejo San Juan”, the painting above, is a bit different in several respects: At one end of the street is a small plaza where most of the activity occurs. It is here that I did the initial drawing for the painting. I did a simple line drawing on drawing paper with a Sharpie pen. This would be my blueprint. I referred to another drawing (possibly even multiple ones) –  that had been blown up into abstraction – and combined interesting shapes into a completely new drawing – still utilizing Sharpies on drawing paper. From this combined drawing, I selected a pre-painted, or “pre-washed” watercolor painting which were referred to as “spirit paintings” or under paintings; These were simply random, abstract applications of paint which would serve as unifying elements in the final painting.

Working with a large light table, I transferred a light pencil drawing of several portions of various drawings into one composition on the under painting on a full sheet of watercolor paper. With the drawing complete to my satisfaction, I began tracing the lines with a small bottle of gray Latex paint squeezed out through a small, almost needle-size tip. I let the paint dry for a day and then came back to add color to the overall design – keeping in mind that I wanted a somewhat recognizable image in an overall abstract painting. The end effect is something similar to cloisonné or stained glass techniques.

The painting itself is a reflection on the festive and colorful mood of Calle San Sebastián. Architectural elements and trees are indicated yet most of the shapes are inexplicable and chaotic – another aspect of life on that end of the street.

I had a lot of fun with this painting. To illustrate the combination of drawings, if you look on the upper left-hand side, you will see an orange shape that is almost a full, perfect circle – or sort of a crescent or ‘C’ as it appears in the painting: this is actually a shape formed by a leaking styrofoam cup of coffee I accidentally set down on one of the Sharpie drawings; when I went to merge several drawings, I liked the shape and traced it onto my final painting. Like many of my paintings, this one went through a long, decision process with bits of color added here and there and things changed around until I declared it complete in 2001.

This painting will always remind me of Old San Juan and the excitement of the Bohemian life on that end of Calle San Sebastián.

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