Ever since the good old Algarve Resident celebrated its 30th anniversary, ol’Pat became curious about expats who have been around on the southern coast of Portugal for at least that long. Here is the first in an ongoing series about residents who have been reading this paper from the beginning.
There was an article about Yives Gowb that was published in the Algarve Resident on January 24, 1997. It appeared in our favourite English-language local newspaper to announce that Gowb was planning to conduct art classes at the Hotel Garbe, designed to introduce students to painting using oil and/or watercolours.
The good news is that, at 79, he’s still introducing students to his unique approach as a resident located in Mesquita.
My lovely wife is an enthusiastic pupil, who has produced a number of watercolours and, more recently, oil paintings, some of which are currently hanging on our walls. In the ‘97 interview conducted by Sandra Mallner, Gowb explained his approach, which my lovely wife verified is still valid today.
“This course is for people who want to learn the basics,” Gowb explained to Mallner and to me just days ago, “and I teach it in such a way that people will be able to go home and paint the picture they’ve always wanted to paint with considerable confidence. You see, in most art lessons, they put a bowl of flowers or something similar (he told me fruit) in front of you and tell you to start painting.”
Gowb, on the other hand, gives his students helpful hints, practical advice and introduces tricks of the trade that actually work. Gowb’s father, who was a commercial artist, showed him how to use a brush, for example. According to Gowb, “this is so important. You’re not really taught that at art school. I consider this so important that it forms part of my course and I also teach some basics that you don’t receive tuition in at art school.”
Gowb, who claims he wasn’t a good student because he was dyslexic, worked at a variety of jobs including a steward for BOAC and a lounge waiter and, even though he didn’t have a degree, became a milk analyst and worked for some time in quality control for food companies and then a shoe factory.
Self-described as “underqualified for most of my career”, Gowb developed his own approach to problem-solving through his understanding of “outside variables”.
This unique personal form of thinking outside the box (an unfortunate cliché but appropriate) also informs his approach to art and teaching. Many of his students, for example, learn to add depth and perspective to their work, after Gowb helps them understand what he calls “the second dimension”.
Then one day, Gowb decided he wanted to make and sell pottery and moved away from London and set up a kick-wheel and a kiln. As part of this project, he created some whimsical figurines as decorations for the stall where he displayed his wares. The little figures sold very well and Gowb was making a living as an artist.
Somewhat concurrently, Gowb wanted to renovate an old sign his father had painted. With the gold leaf worn off, Gowb decided to burn the design into the wood to give it a distinctive look. Soon people were asking for custom signs, which Gowb accomplished by using a tool he invented. A true free thinker, Gowb decided to try his hand at burning a portrait of a beagle, which was such a success that he was soon doing pet portraits and then even people. The BBC did a story on his pyrography, and he became the official artist for the portraits of champions of the Cruft’s Dog Show.
From then on, Gowb was a professional artist. Even though he researched and discovered that there were only 76 artists making a full-time living in the 70s, he decided that his approach of extreme concentration would work. This meant that he would completely centre in on what he was working on for approximately two hours at a time; three days a week, for a total of six concentrated hours of work a week (an example of this total concentration approach was when he burned the dog portraits into wood. “You can’t erase a burn after it happened”).
The rest of his time was spent thinking, pursuing other interests; taking care of routine matters and living in balance with nature.
Improvisation is clearly part of Gowb’s approach. For example, he makes small statues by stacking found stones, which were very popular with some art patrons. He was happy to do commissions for other people renovating homes in the area and produced paintings for particular spaces such as a living room or over the couch. Combined with his analytic approach, Gowb said he often was “just messing around”.
His wife Margaret thinks his apparent natural talent “is in his genes”. After all, his commercial artist dad worked in the pre-computer age and designed and hand-painted signs as originals. She also explained that he had an artistic mother and an independent childhood.
It could be supposed that being dyslexic (“I spent all my school life in the bottom class”) in some way helped rather than hindered Gowb to be an independent thinker. As part of a remarkable sideline, Gowb has two books available on Amazon Kindle.
His first book Second Dimension is comprised of 225 logic and lateral thinking puzzles, some of which first appeared in the East Algarve magazine. These puzzles, which appear to be based on simple arithmetic, can only be done, according to Gowb, “in your mind and not on a computer”. He goes on to say, “some have more than one answer, which shows how ambiguous things in life can occur or be. Or how another way gives changes in outside variables.”
His second book The Second Harvesting is described as “an alien sci-fi” story about “a species one billion years ahead of us and how their lifestyles have developed”. As Gowb suggests with the subtitle “You decide what’s fact or fiction”, which is an ongoing challenge we all face today and into the future.
Gowb has been married to Margaret for 60 years. They first came from Somerset in England to the Algarve on holiday with their children in 1981. Like most visitors, they loved the sunny weather and the uncrowded beaches and little seaside villages. They appreciated the fresh seafood and the friendliness of the Portuguese people.
By 1983, they renovated a small house just west of the fishing village Albufeira, where Gowb remembers, “it was a quiet way of life. We would walk through a stand of pine trees to the beach”. Margaret also recalls that they sometimes bartered at the local mini-market and that, at one point, “it took four and a half years to get a telephone installed” after it was first requested.
Still very much satisfied with their Algarvean lifestyle, Margaret and Yives enjoy their home and garden near Mesquita, are active social dancers, and are serious bridge players.
For more information about Gowb’s art classes, where his “aim is to not only make painting a pleasure but a joy for the rest of your life”, interested and open-minded prospective students should call 289 845 561 or 916 389 819.
By Pat, the expat
For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.