Rafael Mareyna stares at a hardwood canvas on which colorful, snowflake-like shapes dance with graphing points against a stark background of muted razor-wire. He adds a final daub of green acrylic to one of the snowflakes.
The painting, which he has yet to title, will be among about 30 displayed at the Riford Library as part of a show Mareyna calls “Art is Time, Time is Life,“ running Jan. 20 through Feb. 28.
While prepping for the show in his Miramar studio, Mareyna says this painting tells him it “needs more beauty.” All his paintings talk to him, he claims, adding that “they’re finished when they stop talking.”
Mareyna, 88, was a prolific artist in Mexico City from his teens through his thirties. He was a figurative painter, recreating scenes of his friends in the factory where they worked in their twenties.
“I have been drawing and painting since I was in grammar school,” Mareyna says. “There was a point where I wanted to be a professional artist. But I was already married, with two children, and my art friends were not making any money.”
So Mareyna got a “real” job as an accountant. For 40 years, he gave up painting as his business grew.
“I worked hard, really hard,” Mareyna said. “I never had time to paint as a hobby.”
This saddened Mareyna’s daughter, Becky Guttin, who was inspired to become a professional artist by her father’s passion for painting when she was a child.
“I grew up in his studio,” she says. “Those are my favorite childhood memories.”
In 1998, Guttin’s oldest son got accepted to the University of San Diego, and the family decided to relocate together. Mareyna sold his accounting business and retired. He and his wife, Dorita, found a place in Coronado first, then La Jolla. Life was good for a while.
Then, in 2005, Mareyna suffered the stroke from which he still limps. (Dorita had suffered a stroke 15 years earlier, which put her in a wheelchair until she died in 2016.)
Guttin, who volunteered for five years in rehab facility at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, knew how beneficial taking up a hobby could be to the recovery process. (A 2015 study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that participants who engaged in arts and crafts in both middle and old age were 73 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who didn’t.)
“He was going downhill,” Guttin says. “He was not able to play golf. He was not active. So I knew I had to do something.”
She brought her father to her studio in Miramar, where she creates her own mixed-media sculpture, drawings and jewelry. She told him she had a surprise.
Mareyna picks up the story: “I saw my old easel, my brushes, my palette, my table — everything I used to use in Mexico City! I couldn’t believe she saved all of it!”
Mareyna now rents the studio next to his daughter’s, which is filled with hundreds of his paintings, old on one wall, new on the others.
“It was like a rebirth for me,” he says.
The only difference was a switch from figurative to abstract painting.
“Copying something was not my thing anymore,” Mareyna says. “I wanted to do something that came from my mind.”
Mareyna had his first solo exhibition at La Jolla Art Association in 2015, and an exhibition with Guttin at Casa Valencia at Liberty Station in 2016.
Mareyna says he feels “sublime” when he paints and never like a man in his late eighties diminished by a medical condition.
“Time goes by and I don’t notice,” he says. “I can stand here and paint for three or four hours without feeling how long I’ve been standing.
“When I’m here, I feel great.”
IF YOU GO: “Art is Time, Time is Life” opens with a reception 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20 at the La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave. Admission is free.