In the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” architect Tom Hanks described to a nationwide radio host what was special about his late wife: “When I touched her hand it was like coming home…only to no home I’d ever known. It was like magic.”
Architects are like that. Sensitivity amid a maelstrom of hard hats and steel beams.
I learned about this delicate balance in an unusual way.
Alex Arzu worked at the architectural firm next door. A twenty-seven year old man newly minted from U of H School of Architecture, the marble floors and granite walls of the Decorative Center made him anxious. He avoided eye contact.
I happened upon Alex in the hall and asked how he liked his work. “Well, today is my last day,” he replied cautiously. “I’m going to try to make it as an artist.”
At first I thought it was a poor trade. But, secretly I admired him.
A few months later I stopped next door for his number.
When I arrived at his warehouse studio on Crawford Street he was waiting at the curb. The dour face and tight lips had been supplanted by a warm smile. The transformation was startling.
He showed me his work ranging from portraits to giant murals. A photo of a huge grinning alligator on the wall of Anderson Elementary in Spring shared a corner with a stylized oil painting of an African American beauty.
Alex was raised on an Army base in Lawton, Oklahoma where his childhood was a study in duality. His father was a field artillery officer, his mother a teacher. Both immigrants from Honduras, they were a mix of strength and sensitivity.
The family moved to Houston in time for Alex to attend Cinco Ranch High School where he began painting award winning murals for local schools.
At U of H he learned the traditional style and structure of the architectural profession.
When I asked why he quit the firm he gave a careful response. “We designed what other people described. I wanted to create something new from my own thoughts.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of an artist lags that of an architect by forty percent. Convention pays better than conviction, or does it?
I don’t know if Alex Arzu’s passion for art is destined to make him rich. I do know, however, that he represents something in each of us that’s worth more than gold. Just ask the girl down the street whose dad helped her craft a Statue of Liberty hat from tin foil for the Fourth of July parade, or the ghetto kid whose teacher stayed late to help him paint a homemade Mother’s Day card.
In “Sleepless in Seattle” Meg Ryan tried to substitute pragmatism for passion with her fiancée by proclaiming, “Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” That is, until she turned on the radio one night and learned about the magic of passion from an architect a continent away.
I only had to look next door.
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