It was cold and a light snow had dusted the scene. From the second story window of the modest hotel where we were, I looked out the window and surveyed the scene below. It was a very big event in my young life, the first time to a big city far away from our farm in Western Kansas, all the way across the state to Kansas City. My
mother sat beside me on the window ledge and explained the strange sights below.
As I tried to take it all in, my attention focused on an old man. He wore a thread bare coat. I don’t remember if he was wearing a hat but I do remember his sad eyes met mine and for a moment I was captured by the reality of his situation. He was cold. He was old and he was alone. To this very day I remember the stab of grief that
pierced my heart. It was my first encounter with the feeling of pity, that raw human emotion that thrusts without invitation into our very core.
As adults, we become calloused and indifferent. We have figured out how to avoid pangs of conscience. The secret is to not make eye contact. Just look past the eyes and you won’t have to deal with what that other person is thinking or feeling. In many of my paintings and certainly in this one, I try to force the viewer to look at the eyes. Therein lies the story. It takes courage to “look a person in the eye”. Lovers look deep into each others eyes. Gunfighters and gamblers stare each other down but the rest of us can be oblivious to the emotions and feelings of others which are almost always revealed in the eyes.
Old Ashworth Gentle doesn’t really care if you buy a conch shell. He is passing time before the weather clears and he can take his skiff out to catch some jack and check his lobster pots. If you had time, which of course you don’t, he could tell some stories that would make a novel.
Someone pointed out to me that the man’s eyes aren’t the same size. “By golly!! You’re right” and up went the brush to make the difference a little more obvious. Old Ashworth got in a fist fight on board his skiff with a bally raiding his lobster pots. It was hand to hand, fists flying and blood flowing with a great white having beenseen in the area just the day before. The lid of Ashworth’s right eye was torn. Blood covered his face. Someone had to be thrown out of that skiff. He lunged repeatedly at the thief, a man much heavier than himself. Ashworth braced his leg against the mast, shoved his left arm under the intruder’s groin and with his right hand under the armpit, with a mighty thrust, heaved him onto a coral stand, bleeding and defenseless.