John K. Peterson of Ajijic
In 1975 I rented my flat out to a gay doctor with his lover and took off for America and Mexico leading a nomadic life for a year. I had bought an amazing mileage ticket that was to the furthest point - Los Angeles returning via Mexico to London.
I flew to Canada first, then on to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Vegas culminating with the last 3 exciting months in California 2 of which were in North Beach in San Francisco. I had contacts almost everywhere as far as Mexico City where I would base myself in Edificio Condesa with the help of the fibreglass artist David Lach who I had known in London and kept in touch with.
In San Francisco I had been given a German artist contact in Ajijic, Mexico, the artists colony on Lake Chapala, half an hour from Guadalajara where I was based. Although not an artist myself, I had always got on well with artists and sculptors, so off I headed first to Puerto Vallarta, having seen the film ‘The night of the iguana’, which had been set there, afterwards to Guadalajara and from there to nearby cultured arty Ajijic.
Once there I was introduced to a middle aged American artist called John Kenneth Peterson, known locally as ‘Kenny’ who lived in a basic tumbling down small house cum studio on the lake that he rented for $25 a month most of the year but hopped over the border to Texas to sell his paintings and have exhibitions. His paintings were inspired by the way of life he witnessed and were very professional.
John invited me out for dinner to a cheap shack of a place in a colourful narrow cobbled Street. After I had eaten the fried greasy chicken, I was sure I would get an upset tummy so John gave me 2 pills. I innocently swallowed one, not asking what it was, with what could have been near fatal consequences the next day had I taken a second one! But that is another story.
John told me he was of Swedish heritage and had family with whom he corresponded. His cousins constantly invited him to northern Sweden but he kept on delaying a visit as Sweden was so far away. He moaned. I left after the following day but we promised to write to each other. I spent a further 6 months in Mexico travelling around and finally ended up through Happenstance moving to Paris.
I lived frugally as an TEFL teacher in West Hampstead, North West London taking home £28 after tax each week and never went out for dinner as I was too impoverished!
John and I corresponded with blue aerogrammes but I got annoyed with him as he was always writing about his Swedish relatives inviting him to stay. Moan, moan, moan. If only he could go. If only. If only..... Finally I had enough of his negativity and lambasted him. I told him frankly he was getting on in years and if he didn’t go soon, especially as he had the money, he would be dead! ‘Follow your dream,’ said I. ‘Go!’
My bullying worked and John decided to come via London for one night, on the return journey after a month with his long lost Swedish family, to take me out for a special slap up ‘Thank You’ dinner. How nice I thought. What a treat. I had a local French bistro close by where I lived on West End Green in a red Edwardian Mansion block on a third floor. I salivated just thinking and fantasising about starting with perhaps foie gras and toasted brioche followed by my favourite Boeuf en Daube accompanied with rice. Being gustatory, I could almost taste the dish with a good velvety red wine to wash the tender chunks of beef down. A bottle of 1965 Aloxe Corton perhaps?
He arrived at tea time, excited to see me, Jilliana, his British friend. A ruddy faced man, I suppose in his mid 50s, portly with middle age spread, a blotchy face and yellowish teeth. Dressed rather badly with a pinky slightly crumpled shirt as he had just got off the plane and not yet checked into his West End Hotel.
He announced he wanted me to sit for my portrait and would sketch me there and then. He wouldn’t have been the first. My dear friend friend the artist Lyall Watson, who owned the Woodstock Gallery off Bond Street, had also sketched my portrait.
We sat, before dinner, in my tongue and groove pine stained 70s kitchen diner and sipping Earl Grey tea while he told me how his relatives had welcomed him, thanks to me, Jilliana. How grateful he was that I had pushed and scolded him. Of course I was pleased but was getting bored as I did not find him a particularly interesting man and his family sounded old fashioned and pious church going Lutherans in the small hamlet of 400 cottages called Gammelstad far away from the big cities in the north of Sweden.
I must have sat for over an hour, watching silently awaiting my ‘payment gift’. A master of his art I presumed. I watched him furiously and violently move his arm across the A4 sketch pad he had brought with him concentrating lost in his art. Jesus, when I finally saw myself! All he had done was a mass or should I say mess of lines and squiggles, no face, no features, no eyes, a ludicrous mess of random lines that any child could have done! I later binned it when I got home after a rather dull evening.
I had booked a table at my local intimate bistro ‘Chez Pierrot’ and suggested we go there to eat. After all I would be his guest. He then announced he only had an American cheque book, something was ‘wrong’ with his credit card, it had been blocked and he had to sort that out when he got back home to Mexico, he carried no pounds because he was in transit and only had American Express dollar travellers cheques with him. Being innocent of money matters I agreed I would pay on his behalf loaning him the money. He assured me he would refund me when he got back to America by bank transfer. Stupidly I did not take a couple of $20 cheques but I recall he had to sign them with his passport to verify the signature and his passport was locked in his suitcase back at my flat. After all we were friends, weren’t we? I trusted him, didn’t I? He knew I was a hard up TEFL teacher. He wouldn’t take advantage of a friend, would he?
We ate. I paid the expensive bill. He politely said goodbye and thanked me. I never saw or heard from John K. Peterson again!
Live and learn has been my motto ever since 1976. However I was amazed to see a glowing long illustrated eulogy of the man and his work on the website for Lake Chapala. The novelist and Hollywood screenplay writer Ray Rigby write that “John Peterson combines strength and violence with a forgiving hand. His flair for fantasy intermingles with reality. John Peterson’s work is fun.”
No way Jose!!!
Written on the train from Brighton to Reading on a wet grey afternoon 10.8.18 and updated after research on google on 26.8.18.
7.50 minutes. Read on BHCR on 24.8.18.
John Kenneth Peterson (1922-1984)
Google David Lach
Google lakechapalaartists.com - article March 09, 2017 with self portrait and article on his artistic achievements.