“We figured we needed to catch 8,000 pounds of Red Snapper to break even.” The painter waves his tan sailor arms, righting his glass of Scotch mid gesture. Not a drop breaches the rim. The painter sits in his studio with a half-killed fifth of Macallan 12 Year. Paintings from a recent trip to Cuba circle his feet.
“After what happened, breaking even was the last thing we cared about. When the rounds arced our bow and pinged the water not fifty yards port, all we wanted to do was get out alive.”
The bright colors in his paintings seem to intensify as he tells the tale of his first trip to Cuba: a 1966 fishing expedition that went horribly wrong and left him and his comrades in the troubled waters of a revolution.
One of the paintings references an iconic image of Che Guevara. “You know, we don’t have any idea about history. We look at history from an American perspective. Hear what we are told.” He reaches down and picks up the canvas: “It’s a lot more complicated than we’ll ever know.” In the painting, a bright green bicycle leans against a wall that sports an image of the revolutionary. A dog sits in the foreground, looking off into the distance.
Paul Ladnier sinks back into his black leather chair. Clasps the glass to his chest. “The name of the boat was The Delroy. It was a hundred-year-old wooden two-mast schooner we found sunk in the muck of Mobile Bay.” A painting of a
sailboat mirrors his story. The boat sits on a stand in a boatyard.
Ladnier leans forward, one hand moves to his temple. “It was me, George Henley, Donald Lampkin, Delroy Scott, Henry McClary and Jimmy Center,” he says. “Not one of us knew a thing about sailing the open seas, nor about commercial fishing. We floated that wreck, patched it up and took off into the Gulf of Mexico to make a fortune.
“It’s all part of the same story. When you’re an artist the stories never end. You can’t separate one adventure from the next.” He points to an urban landscape: Crayon-colored classic cars lined up – red, green and blue. “It’s just like this painting. There’s a story here, hidden beneath these bright colors, about something that went terribly wrong. There’s colonial architecture, elegant, beautiful. Wide streets and fancy cars. All etched into a place in time. It’s beautiful, exotic. There’s something there that doesn’t fit. We see it, feel it.
“I’d been enamored with the idea of Cuba since hearing stories from a teacher of mine, Dr. Blanco. He was an elegant, well-spoken man who immigrated from Cuba in 1963. He told me about old Havana. The beauty, music, and culture.”
Ladnier looks off to the corner of his studio. “I’d always wanted to go. I’ll tell you this … this second time was a hell-of-a-lot better than the first.”
“That first time, we were a bunch of college kids storm-tossed for weeks on the gulf. Our food spoiled, we took turns manning a pump to keep from sinking, and tried our damnedest to catch some snapper.”
He pulls the glass up to his nose, sniffs, then takes a big gulp. “It started taking on water as soon as we sailed past Fort Morgan at the mouth of the bay.” He sits up. “We looked back at our town. There was no turning back. That blue black line on the horizon pulls you forward. It’s scary, but now and again you see a spark of light. You have to see what it is.
Article written by Jim Draper