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For Seniors : Watercolor Artist's Success Is Case of a Late Bloomer Who Blossomed

October 09, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN

Watercolor artist Jesse Etayo has this advice for people who, like himself, bloom a little late in life: "Older people should express themselves and not be afraid of ridicule. No matter what you do or how, be yourself."

Etayo, 65, speaks with authority. It was not until he enrolled in a community college art class five years ago that he learned how to express himself as an artist.

And he has not faced ridicule or reproach. His paintings, Impressionist sorts of works that usually depict nature scenes, have sold for $200 to $950 at art shows. He recently sold 20 watercolors in a one-man show at the Santa Monica Main Library.

Etayo was born in Lagrono, a small city in the north of Spain. He was the youngest of 13 children.

"I was the end of the tale. I was both neglected and overwhelmed with affection," he said from his studio in Santa Monica.

The family left Spain during that country's civil war in the 1930s and settled in Venezuela, where Etayo grew up. Both parents died when he was 18, and he decided to begin a new life.

He arrived in Baton Rouge, La., with $150, not knowing a word of English, without a job, a family or an idea of what he was going to do.

"I knew one thing: I was going to explore and learn the American way of life. I instantly engaged and knew this was going to be my place," he said.

He enrolled in an English-language course and three months later had enough money for a train ticket to Los Angeles.

Here, he finished high school, attended community college while doing odd jobs and was drafted during the Korean War. When he returned, he went to UCLA, graduated with a bachelor's degree in general science, earned a master's degree in Portuguese and Spanish literature--he hopes to someday write and illustrate children's books in Spanish--and spent the next 30 years managing chemical tests in a medical laboratory at UCLA.

During that time he married his wife, Madeline, and raised a son--along with six nieces and nephews.

Every step Etayo took--from learning the language of his new country, to getting an education, to marrying and raising his own family and the children of his brothers and sisters--helped secure his future.

Since childhood, however, he had always wanted to be an artist. So throughout his life he has taken art courses.

"I knew eventually I wanted to be an artist, but I had all the responsibilities. I think it was my destiny, because I had it on my mind since I was a child," he said.

Not until he was 60 and enrolled in a watercolor class at Emeritus College in Santa Monica did his artistic talent blossom.

Etayo credits Emeritus College with nurturing his talent and giving him the opportunity to associate with other artists. Marilyn Hall, assistant dean of special programs and director of Emeritus, said, "It's always nice to see the connections between our classes, students and the community, and Jesse's work does that--it's the epitome of what Emeritus is all about."

"I couldn't imitate nature, but I could create with my own fantasies what I saw," Etayo said.

And so the purple trees he paints make a lot of sense to him and anyone else who has ever resented being told when they were young that there's no such thing as purple trees. "Everyone has a way of expressing their own charm and beauty, and sometimes you think other people won't see it, but they do if it's authentic," he said.

His purple trees can be seen at the Culver City Main Library through this month.

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