When the Twin Towers collapsed and Francisco Poblet was seriously injured in the chaos that followed, the renowned artist – and the last living apprentice of the surrealist master Salvador Dalí – began to paint the horrors that surrounded him.
Years later, when coastal waters hit and Super Storm Sandy swept through his town, destroying his Howard Beach studio and 18 of his paintings, Poblet again put the brush on the canvas to recreate the images that were circulating. in his mind.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged New York City last year, disgusting Poblet and killing tens of thousands, Poblet did what he has done his whole life.
He painted the devastation that had engulfed his world.
“It’s all I’ve got. It’s me,” said Poblet, who will be the featured artist on Saturday as Westbury Arts officially opens its new $ 2 million arts center. “I want to leave a legacy. I want people to remember that time and that time and the way I presented it. My paintings tell you something about our time.”
Poblet, 88, of Manhattan, will launch his latest work, depicting the coronavirus pandemic, along with other pieces from his 1960s collection, as Westbury Arts opens the studio on Schenck Avenue.
The weekend also includes the unveiling of a 53-foot-long outdoor mural hand-painted by local artists, a one-act play, high school musical performances and family activities on Sundays.
“We hope to be a community hub for arts and culture,” said Westbury Arts Director Julie Lyon. “Our mission is to create programs that connect, educate and inspire our community. With a vision of a community where arts and culture instill a sense of belonging and pride.”
Poblet, born in New York, painted since childhood. When he was 14, Poblet’s father introduced him to Dalí, a friend and acclaimed Spanish artist. So impressed with the boy’s budding talents, Dalí agreed to be Francisco’s private mentor, starting with oil, then moving to acrylic, pen and ink.
“He was a teacher and my friend,” recalls Poblet, who adopted Dalí’s characteristic surrealist style. “He put me to bed with chocolate and cake.”
Throughout his career, Poblet has owned several nightclubs; was used to paint Gold Key comic book covers for Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera and Marvel Comics; was artistic director of Grit, a popular weekly newspaper and was commissioned to paint the cover of musician Tiny Tim’s album, “Juanita Banana”.
On September 11, 2001, Poblet lived two blocks from the World Trade Center. When the plane struck the north tower, it smashed the windows of Poblet’s apartment. Poblet took to the streets with his video camera but was struck by debris from the crumbling buildings, severely lacerating his neck and injuring his throat, lungs and stomach.
“I flatline twice,” Poblet recalls. “No one up there wanted me. No one there wanted me. So they sent me away right away.”
While hospitalized and bedridden, Poblet began painting – his vivid memories of the nation’s darkest day served as the inspiration for his collection of 9/11 paintings.
“I live in a different reality,” Poblet explained. “A subconscious reality where I see reality. It exists as images in my brain.”
In recent years, Poblet has said he’s drawn to real-world events – the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the desolation and grief of Sandy and the shared isolation and human tragedy of the COVID pandemic.
“I want everyone to remember what it was,” he said. “Tragedy is easier to convey and it is much more lively than most paintings would be… It’s the things that happen that make you want to keep going.”
Lyon said Poblet’s work is deliberately proactive.
“You look at his paintings and you can feel what he was feeling,” she said. “What people can take away from her work is that they are beautiful and they are emotional and they will stir your soul.”
While Poblet’s is not afraid of his lineage with Dalí, one of the greatest masters of the 20th century, he wants to be remembered.
“It was Dali but I’m here today,” Poblet said. “I want people to remember my paintings for what they are and who I am.”
Poblet’s work will remain on display in Westbury until June 26.