It was hot when I visited Richard Silva. About 105 degrees that day. I had to go to him because there was something I needed to know.
I caught him in the middle of dismantling a wood sculpture. “It wasn’t working,” he said.
He never seems to be satisfied, a thing that goes all the way back to childhood. “I was a little kid who irritated people because I always asked why. And adults then got upset and they just told me, ‘Don’t ask why just do it.’”
At school his mind wandered and often got him in trouble. His teachers sent notes home complaining about his lack of interest when really he was just dreaming—sailing off to
or riding through the plains as a cowboy. “You know my mind couldn’t contain all that fantasy and stuff I had going on [in my mind]. China
Imagine this boy in the public school system. “They said, ‘That little boy, we gotta straighten him out. We gotta fix him’. They told me, ‘You stop drawing on your binders!’” Silva then whacks his hand to illustrate the consequence of being different. “They told me ‘You gotta shut up and you’re gonna do this’ but then in my mind I said ‘No, I won’t budge … no matter what.’”
Needless to say, this unflinching determination evident early on has been sustaining Silva throughout his 40-year career as a painter—most notably in
I’ve often wondered what it is about this area that has produced and attracted artists such as Adolf Odorfer, Stan Bitters, Rollin Pickford, Clement Renzi, not to mention writers such as current US poet Laureate Philip Levine, C.G. Hanzlicek, Larry Levis, and Gary Soto and a host of others that have come from this little place in between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Let’s not forget William Saroyan. It is Saroyan, in fact who Silva referenced when I asked for reason behind the bumper crop of artists and writers who have called
is a brutal place,” he said. William Saroyan said so. He said it’s flat. There are no hills. It’s hot. You’ll roast to death here and nobody will care.” Fresno
And what better place to be a writer or an artist, Silva said. In these conditions, only the toughest people, the most determined people will survive.
Silva believes that
offers no illusions. “If you’re in Fresno ,” he explained, “you can have illusions because that’s where you can make it big [as an artist]. But if you’re in New York Fresno, you have no illusions … you’re in ! Therefore you say to yourself I know where I am and I accept the conditions and I’ll deal with it. It may be hard but you know I will make art. And I will write poetry. And I will do it, you know. That’s what Saroyan was talking about. These people in Fresno they make art. And they write. Because they know the conditions and they are under no illusions.” Fresno
It was Saroyan, too, according to Silva who said the weak ones are those who seek praise and attention. They desperately need people telling them “You’re wonderful, you’re a wonderful so and so’. They don’t get that here so of course they just give up. They just fade away. But the other ones, the Ogatas, the Silvas, the Dixie Salazars, nothing will stop them. Not the economic conditions. Nothing.”
These harsh conditions that we have in
test you as an artist. They test your mettle. “Yeah. They test you, see what you’re made of,” he said. “And if you’re not made of anything you’ll crumble quickly. So I have no illusions. I come down here and deal with reality. And if I don’t have money and I can’t buy canvas then I go find wood. I go out and I salvage stuff. And I bring it in here and I drag it in here and I start making sculptures and do something.” Fresno
There are no excuses. “No, you have none.”
Silva wiped sweat from his forehead. “So yeah. I hate anybody that whines. I can’t stand that.”
Then he reminisced about his granddaughter. “When she was with us she used to complain all the time about the heat. And I would say to her that the same heat is on my body. Now how come I don’t complain? You have to make up your mind to overcome the obstacles that are put in front of you. We have to overcome. Or we’ll disintegrate. That’s how people have persevered—by overcoming these obstacles. But my granddaughter now understands—because she has grown up—that there are worse things than heat.”