Making Art: John Rivera-Resto Paints Cleveland
“I didn’t want to know the aesthetic. I didn’t want to know how I felt about something. Tell me which color to mix with which color. I take care of the rest.
Being on stage was a step towards the glamorous life he had always dreamed of, but a relative in Cleveland had a different idea. Without telling him, Great Uncle Esau submitted some of the boy’s work to an art school here, and he was quickly accepted as a student. But, the young artist found that he was not suited to the rigors of formal education. Teachers annoyed him and he paid for his studies with a part-time job as a welder at night, which didn’t help his attention span.
“I hated every minute of it,” he said. “I didn’t want to know the aesthetic. I didn’t want to know how I felt about something. Tell me which color to mix with which color. I take care of the rest.
This kind of pragmatic attitude came in handy to him as he searched for painting jobs. Her brother came to Cleveland and the two lived together to save money.
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’m very thrifty, don’t do drugs,” he said. “This was when Cleveland was at its worst – in the early ’80s, mid’ 80s – and jobs were hard to find, but I still got them and thought I was fine.
He painted signs. He made murals. He even did private Spanish lessons to make ends meet. But it was not enough. He began to lose faith that he could survive on the painting. So he accepted a position as a program director at the Boys and Girls Club, and he even worked as a manager at Burger King to help pay for an arts education degree at Cleveland State University.
He figured that if he couldn’t make a living as an artist, then he could teach others what he had learned in the real world.
“I’ll be one of the few people who can say I’ve been there,” he said. “And I can do it in Spanish and English, and I’m very theatrical when I teach my class. It’s a performance.
Rivera-Resto says he limits his teaching concerts to one-off lectures and presentations, due to the prep time he needs. He has spoken at Kent State University, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cuyahoga Community College, and some public schools in Cleveland.
His performance talents have come in handy in selling himself as an artist and designer to occasional client companies, and his Spanish skills have come in handy as well. In the 1990s, Rivera-Resto did consultancy work with the Cleveland Indians to help acculturate some young Latino players to their new hometown. For example, he designed the home of popular slugger Carlos Baerga, from furniture to silverware.