When UNCP student Rafael Parra Roman returned to his native Spain last summer, he never expected that he would sell four years of college art assignments for a $14,000 profit.
“What if you take your mathematics homework and sell it?” Roman said, still wide-eyed with amazement.
Government officials in Roman’s hometown of Manilva organized an exhibition of his paintings that began August 21 and continued until September 19.
The event was attended by both of the city’s mayors and drew 350 people on the opening day. All 24 paintings were sold within the first three days. The largest painting is over six-feet wide and sold for $1,700. The smallest painting sold for $245.
Back at UNCP, Roman’s paintings will be part of “Passion,” a slide show presentation to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at UNCP’s Multicultural Center in Old Main on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m. He will be on hand to speak about the inspiration behind each painting.
His Spanish exhibition quickly drew the attention of national television and newspaper reporters. He even made the newspaper, Sol.
“This newspaper is like USA Today is here,” he said.
His picture sits next to that of famous local actor, Antonio Banderas. On another page is an article about pop idol Julio Iglesias, who arrived to open the state fair. “He didn’t come to my show, of course,” Roman said.
A local reporter told him that she would write a short article. After consultation with the the editor, the result was a lengthy feature article, entitled, “Between the ball and the brush.”
“I’m not a celebrity; I’m just the first artist of the town,” Roman said. “I’m only 23 and (townspeople) were happy that I was that young and doing that stuff.”
A SOCCER CONNECTION
From Manilva, a city of 5,000 in the Spanish state of Malaga, Roman came to UNCP in August 2000 as a member of the men’s soccer team. The team added several standout German players last year and sent players from UNCP to Europe to study and practice soccer in the off-season. Roman studied and painted in Germany.
At UNCP, Roman has distinguished himself as a solid student-athlete and a talented artist with a sense of humor.
“I enjoyed being part of a team and making good mates,” he said. “I really love soccer but it’s not what I want to do forever. My teammates don’t understand why I would rather go to a Metropolitan Museum of Art than a soccer game. It’s nuts to them that I’ll still be painting at two in the morning, when I’ve been painting since 6 p.m.”
BETWEEN BALL AND BRUSH
Roman said that he was a classical painter when he came to UNCP, but being here opened his eyes to modern art. Now he pays attention to shapes, textures, materials and colors.
“For the last four years, I had total freedom – no one was telling me this was the right or wrong way to paint – and that helped me develop.”
He brings a Spanish influence to his homework assignments, choosing vivid primary colors to paint churches, people, seaside homes and cherry blossoms. He sometimes used newspaper cutouts to “mix it up” and make the texture of his paintings more interesting. His art professors have all acknowledged him as a perceptive and talented young artist.
“Rafael is one of the best art students I have had in more than 29 years of university teaching,” said Professor Ralph Steeds. “While he is a young man, he is a mature artist who is constantly pushing, always enlarging his aesthetic range and technical abilities.”
“Rafael is an excellent young artist His paintings are alive with color and texture,” said Art Department Chair Janette Hopper. “I expect his work will continue to grow and most probably make an important contribution.”
“I find Rafael to be very perceptive regarding art studies and inventive in his use of forms and traditions from his native country,” Dr. John Labadie said.
Roman began painting at age six and routinely spent hours a week painting alone in his room.
“I would get hungry and tired and thirsty, but I never said, ‘I want to stop,’” he said. “It was the opposite. The older I got the more interested I was. Nobody told me I had to do it. My teacher told my parents, ‘This is not normal. Kids his age are drawing a circle and some lines, but he is painting models. You need to take this kid somewhere.’”
He soon began private classes surrounded by 30-somethings, but his hunger to paint was not satisfied by classes, so he continued to paint alone in his room for the next several years. Roman’s parents worried that he wasn’t socializing with children his age and urged him to play soccer with his friends.
“They wanted to make sure I didn’t get psycho from spending all those hours by myself,” he said.
Although 11 is considered a late age to start to play soccer in Spanish culture, Roman discovered another talent and was soon much better than his friends, who had been playing since they were much younger. Now soccer is just a hobby.
Roman is looking to Yale and UCLA for graduate school, or he may choose London or Paris to continue his studies. He is not in a hurry to make money.
“ When I finish, then I just want to be a gallery painter and make a living painting,” he said. “That’s my idea, but I have to graduate first.”
His advice for those who want to become professional artists is simple: paint and paint and paint, and when you get tired, keep painting.
“In Spain, we have a saying, ‘If you want something, it costs something.’ Now, that someone pays me for my paintings, it’s a dream come true,” he said.