An indian from Venezuela

A portrait of Omar Vizquel

Summer 1998
"El nene lindo" -the pretty boy

I was with Omar Vizquel on a gorgeous summer day listening to loud Salsa music as we headed downtown into Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Since Omar was from Venezuela, I offered to introduce him to some fellow Venezuelan dancers from the Ballet San Jose Company. Omar drove his Porsche into a parking lot right across the Cleveland Playhouse, found a place to park, and I walked to the crosswalk while he paid the parking attendant. I had not gone far when he called me back. I turned around to see what was the problem.

"¿Qué pasa?" -I asked him. With his trademark smile… but looking somewhat embarrassed, he replied: -"John, no tengo dinero!" I did not know if to break out in laughter or cry. This millionaire baseball legend and hero to millions of fans… had no money to pay for parking! All I did was give him a look, pull five dollars from my pocket and pay the fee. Then he had a good laugh as if this had been the greatest joke in the world.


Cleveland's Playhouse Square is a theater district in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, USA, which is the largest performing arts center in the U.S. outside of New York City.

Omar is very charming. At the Cleveland Indians Club House, the other Latin players called him: -"El nene lindo." And, with his toothy smiles and fun demeanor, it's very hard not to treat him like a mama's boy -what Italians would call: -"a mangiapane". Consequently, every female heart wanted to wrap him in their bosoms and smother him with love. Even the lovely Nancy, the woman I married years later, had a sleeping shirt like Omar's baseball jersey which she wore until the shreds fell off!

the-thinkers -mural,-by-john-rivera-resto,-detail

The Thinkers Coffeehouse Mural, detail. 1995. Oils on canvas panels.

So, Omar and I were off to the Playhouse. But, before going into the ballet’s rehearsal hall, we stopped next door into Thinker’s Coffee House so that Omar could see the mural I had done a few years earlier. Omar is also an amateur painter who practices abstract painting. Soon fans were coming to greet him and autographs were dispensed like papal blessings on the faithful. After more hellos and goodbyes, we finally made it into the rehearsal hall.


High Noon at Jacob's Field. 1998. Artist's Oils on canvas. 46 inches high (91.4 cm).

Dancer, choreographer and artistic director Dennis Nahat was rehearsing his dancers for the world premiere of 'Blue Suede Shoes', a highly acclaimed production that combined classical dance with classic rock in a one-act ballet danced to 36 master recordings of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits. This highly entertaining and lavish $1.2 million production featured 280 gorgeous costumes and 16 sets by Emmy award-winner and Oscar nominee designer Bob Mackie.

Blue Suede Shoes went on to national prominence when it was broadcast by PBS. I went to the Cleveland Premiere and really loved the show. The highlight of the evening was during the scene where the dancers played army recruits undergoing a physical examination. While dancing in a row with their backs to the public, the dancers jump up and down exposing their derrières.


Miss Jinni Fontana at a studio visit, 1998. In addition to being a connoisseur of male derrières and my cultural date, Jini was also a graphic designer for the Northern Ohio Live Magazine and author/songstress of the Punk hit-single: "The Game of Love" (1987)

My date for the evening, the sultry and always spontaneous Miss Jinni Fontana –and a great admirer of hard male buns, shot up from her seat, put her finger to her lips and started to whistle her approval. Immediately the rest of the ladies in the audience took her cue and the place erupted into gales of whistle, hooting and applause! This was definitely the best ballet I have ever been too and I owe it all to Jinni. Thanks babe!

-cascadas-de-jaspe, venezuela's jasper falls

To tie Omar to his native Venezuela, I painted Venezuela's beautiful "Cascadas de Jaspe" in the background. The falls are named after the Jasper quartz mineral that give them their beautiful red ocher color.

Omar had a great time seeing the rehearsals and then talking and joking with the cast. I introduced him to his fellow country artists and they were as charmed to meet him as he was to meet them. Dennis came over to great us and Omar got everyone tickets to the Indian’s game. He also got a kick when some of the dancer’s challenge him to do splits. We really had a wonderful time.


On January 29, 2018, Major League Baseball announced that the Chief Wahoo logo would be removed from the Indians' uniforms as of the 2019 season, stating that the logo was no longer appropriate for on-field use.

During that same summer I did this oil painting of Omar. To represent his national roots, I painted the Cascadas de Jaspe -the Jasper Falls, from Venezuela in the background. But the painting proved to be something of a dilemma. American Indians consider 'Chief Wahoo' -the baseball team's logo, offensive and demeaning. In view of this -and many protests and demonstrations by Indian organizations and other national groups, many sports teams have changed their representations of American Indians. But the Cleveland Indians baseball Franchise has not followed suit. (update: The Chief Wahoo logo was officially removed in 2019).


An Indian from Venezuela. 1998. Oils on canvas.

My problem was that I had many friends that were Indian American and many friends among the Indian players. So in other to achieve a compromise, I painted Omar in full Indian uniform, Chief Wahoo logo and all, but on a branch above his head, I painted a little bird native to Venezuela. And, if you look closely at the Chief Wahoo logo, you will notice what the bird did to it. Nothing like a little light humour to smooth out rough waters.


Good artist always finds ways around controversy.

I donated "An Indian from Venezuela" (that's the title of the painting) to the Cleveland Public Theatre for their yearly Art Auction Fundraiser. It was a fun painting to do, though not because of any love for baseball. In fact I'm not fan at all -in spite of baseball also being Puerto Rico's national sport. But I admire athletes and what they achieve on the field. I think this painting shows it. Oh, one final note: -"Omar, if you ever read this… -“You still owe me five bucks!!!

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