Me And Mr. Bowes
“Mr. Bowes,” by Stanley Stamatel, is one of the most thought-provoking paintings I’ve ever encountered. Though the technique of placing a subject in some future moment in time has probably been done by countless artists over the years, this particular rendering resonated deeply for me in part because Ron Bowes, the shirtless, bespectacled fellow you see here in the boat, had died in a somewhat mysterious bicycling accident just outside my front door in Brighton, Massachusetts, a decade or so before I had ever heard of Stanley or seen his painting.
It was quite by chance that I discovered that the unfortunate cyclist had been Stanley's roommate all those years earlier. I was chatting with Stanley’s wife, Helen, who is a colleague of mine at a university you’ve heard of before (no, not Lesley), and the subject turned to bike helmets. This, also, was quite by chance: Helen told me that a woman had been discovered dead in an alley near Stanley’s art studio, and the police said it looked like she’d just slipped and hit her head. Helen doubted that story indeed! People don't just walk along and suddenly find themselves dead because they slipped and hit their head! Stanley would be moving his art studio because the building it was in was being either sold or developed (can’t remember that particular detail), and Helen was relieved, knowing that the neighborhood, near what at the time was called “Boston City Hospital” – now Boston Medical Center – was crime-ridden.
I’m often accused of being a contrarian, when it would improve karma just to go with the flow and agree with another person's opinion, and I probably am one. In this case, armed with evidence that’s it’s possible to hit your head and die, I recounted to Helen the story of the cyclist on my street corner, who, as far as anyone could tell, seemed to have lost control of his bike, fell backward and hit his head on the curb (or, perhaps, the street). After a few questions from Helen about where and when this happened, we came to realize that the victim was Ron.
The mystery involves who made the phone call that brought the police, and what that person might have seen. When I went downstairs, no one else was about, and the police questioned me regarding what I had heard, which was nothing beyond the idling emergency vehicles. The next day, the cyclist’s girlfriend came around to see if I knew anything. No one but me and the people I had mentioned it to seemed even aware of the incident. But someone in the neighborhood had to have made the phone call. The year was 1990, so it couldn't have been a passing motorist: no one had a cell phone back then. There was a police station just up the road, and Murdock Street, my street in Brighton, was a locally-known cut-through to avoid Market Street and get up to Chestnut Hill Avenue, and it's entirely possible that the police were just happening by.
Given that it all happened nearly a quarter of a century ago, it seems that we'll never know if there was anything more to the accident than Ron's falling off a bike with no protection for his head.
You can read my teensy essay about what I learned from the painting in the Boston Globe Magazine’s Connections Column (they’re so darned short, these Connections pieces – but that’s another story!), titled “Portait of a Cyclist.” It appears in the March 9th, 2014 issue of the magazine.
For those interested, Stanley Stamatel does not currently have a website, but dammit he will! He has a lot of interesting pieces, and is known to have sculpted a work of art from the remnant trunk of an old beech (or oak or maple) tree that was sick and needed to be felled. Stay tuned on the Stamatel website front! I'll note its go-live date in these pages, which I'm sure you're visiting once or twice a week to keep in touch with what's happening to me.