Inspiration from his eyes

High school senior Mario Almonte thought about his departed grandfather when he picked up his pastels.

Published March 7, 2007

"Good art is not what it looks like, but what it does to us."

Roy Adzak, sculptor and photographer

Sometimes good art makes you want to know more - more about the artist or perhaps more about the subject.

Take the chalk pastel and charcoal drawing titled Within Hazel Wisdom, one of 160 pieces of high school student art work that is hanging in the annual ArtBeat Exhibit at the Pasco Arts Council in Holiday.

Mario Almonte, 17, said he was thinking about his grandfather, Frank Rodriguez, when he picked up his chalk pastels and began to draw the hazel eyes and graying temples of the one with so much wisdom to impart.

"It was about how I saw him -what was within his eyes," said Mario, a senior at Land O'Lakes High.

Frank Rodriguez was a finish carpenter living in Long Island, N.Y. He died about a month ago. That left Mario with a swirl of memories - of the times they spent together creating small wooden toys for him as a child and later on, the tables and chairs for his grandfather's customers.

"I picked chalk because it reminded me of sawdust," Mario said. "Sawdust is kind of like chalk - the way it flows and moves. I thought the chalk almost had the same kind of texture that sawdust does."

But it wasn't just about the familiar feel and smell of sawdust that so reminded him of his grandfather.

It also was about the earnest talks the two shared about life that were sprinkled in between their woodworking projects.

"It was mostly spiritual - how to make things better - that we had to have God in our lives if we wanted to do things right," Mario said. "He was always asking me how things were in school. He didn't really like to talk about his past because it wasn't that great. ... But he still taught me the ways of his experiences. He knew that he didn't want his past to be what my future was going to be."

No doubt, art is in the future for Mario, who recently earned both first- and third-place ribbons at the Pasco County Fair's Student Art Exhibit and is thinking about attending the Tampa Institute of Art in the fall, "because it's close to my church - close to home."

"After that? I'm not really sure yet. Maybe working on graphic design on computers, creative imaging, maybe magazine work."

He'd like to make a living doing what he loves best.

"I've loved to draw ever since I was little. Learning new things always intrigued me," Mario said, recalling how he sopped up what he could about the craft during his lunch period and the five-minute passing periods at Pine View Middle School.

A painted dragon mural of Mario's still adorns a school hallway at Pine View, but he never took an art class there. Still, he spent every spare moment he could in the art classroom getting sporadic lessons from the teachers there.

"Art was always second nature to me," he said.

As is determination, something he says his grandfather instilled in him.

"He told me, 'I understand what you can do. Now is when you really want to push forward. Never quit. Never give up.' "

That advice is something Mario has learned to draw upon, most recently when his mostly filled sketch book turned up missing during his fifth-period class.

"That sketchbook is like half of my portfolio," Mario said. "I'd like to get it back, but if I don't I've just got to do it over. I've got to move on.

"That's one of the things my grandfather told me: 'You can make it better or you can make it worse.' "

ArtBeat Exhibit

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday through March 22.

Where: Pasco Arts Council, 5744 Moog Road, Holiday.

What: About 160 works of art in various mediums from high school students in private and Pasco County schools are featured.

Cost: Admission is free.

You can vote: Judging has been completed, said director Ann Larsen, and winners will be announced at a special reception that will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the council. Awards will be presented in several categories. Visitors will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite work of art, and one student will be honored with the People's Choice award at the conclusion of the exhibit.

Information: (727) 845-7322.