Progreso lost a good friend this week

On Monday, Progreso Weekly / Semanal lost a much admired collaborator — our caricaturist. On a personal level, I lost a great and dear friend. Daniel Pontet, a well-known local artist, teacher, showman, and 21st century Renaissance man, died in his home in Hollywood, FL. He was 65. The reason for his death are still not known by us, but we were aware that Daniel had had heart problems in the past that were greatly affected by a bout with Covid earlier this year.

I was informed of Daniel’s passing very early on Tuesday morning. I am still in shock. It was totally unexpected. I last spoke to him last Friday when he seemed so happy about a “performance” he had just given where he painted with his feet accompanied by musicians as he danced across a large canvas placed on the floor — the musicians included a Grammy Award winning violinist.

Daniel and I would talk almost every other day about work, the following week’s drawing for Progreso, but mostly we spoke of nonsense, and laughed endlessly remembering the past and the mischief we’d caused as young men. Occasionally we’d meet at an Argentinian bakery for coffee, or I’d travel to his home for dinner, but we always stayed in touch. He would frequently tell me that I was his “shrink,” as he spilled his problems and ask for advice. I would too often laugh at him and respond that I had no right to advice him on things that I too was wrestling with. After sometimes hour-long conversations he would thank me for listening to him and tell me that he would put the check for my services in the mail soon. 

We had something that tied us closely together: We both have daughters — he had two, in my case I have one. And both of us had had the children late in our lives. Daniel loved his daughters in ways hard to explain, but as a father myself whose life revolves around my Camila, I understand perfectly how his number one, two, and three top priorities were those two girls. His other love was his art. 

[Click here to see a collection of Pontet’s caricatures for Progreso.]

Daniel was a tremendously generous person. The kind that there are not enough of today. And his generosity came straight from the heart. For example, as a ‘starving artist’ in the figurative sense, he did not have a plethora of material gifts to share with his daughters, but he did have all the time in the world to spend time with them, talk to them and laugh with them, involve them in his art, advise them… He loved them soooo much! And most of every one of our conversations, at some point, always dealt with our girls — how they were doing, their schools and plans for college, friends, problems at home, the usual. 

Pontet was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He lived in South Florida since his arrival in 1991. He was first taught watercolor by Uruguayan artist Esteban Garino — who taught him the art of drawing and composition. He was also influenced by artists Americo Sposito and Hector Laborde, who instilled into him the magic of color and a particular emphasis on space and shapes. He studied Art History at the School of Humanities of the University of the Republic of Uruguay.

Being the true artist that he was, Daniel was a lousy merchant, a fact that we both laughed about often because he had thousands of dollars in paintings stacked in his Hollywood apartment. But Daniel was proud. He knew how good he was and he’d tell me: “I may need the money, but I won’t sell my work for vultures who want to pay me $50 for something worth so much more.”

Over the last decade he had developed what he labeled “a performance art experience” known as Impulse Art. It has been described as: Art performances accompanied by live music that open a new door to Pontet’s unlimited creativity. And he is the first local artist to put aside brushes and the use of his hands and still manage to create his own unique strokes of colors and lines – using his feet.

These Impulse Art shows were seen regularly at the monthly Hollywood Art Walk, or once a year during his performances during Art Basel Week in Miami, and at private performances for some of his collectors. It was just another way Daniel tried to present his gift(s) to the world.

I have so many other stories I can tell of Daniel, his art, his daughters, his daily struggles to make a living.

But I think I shall bring it back to his generosity. Persons who did not know him well, and I’m not sure how, but they noticed it. It was his persona, his aura.

Daniel would earn money drawing persons during important court hearings in South Florida where TV cameras were not allowed in. He would show up in court, draw usually infamous individuals and then TV stations, the lawyers themselves and others would approach him to buy his work. It was not often easy finding a good place to sit, with a good angle where he could observe and draw at the same time. One of the last cases he attended he showed up to the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse late. A bad accident on the road had derailed his trip. Add to that an early morning thunderstorm that had him parking blocks from the courthouse. He arrived drenched in water from head to toe and convinced that he had lost an opportunity. But that’s when the universe kicked in. 

The bailiffs, who knew him and liked him, made sure that the case Pontet wanted to cover was delayed and put others in front of this particular defendant. Allowing him to make it into the courtroom on time. But in amazement, he told me, the judge who saw him stretching his neck, and drenched from the rain, called him over and allowed him to sit next to her — for a better view of the proceedings. What he thought was a wasted day turned out to be a very economically fruitful day for Pontet. He could not believe it. 

I assure you that Daniel always had a good word to say to those bailiffs, probably giving them small gifts of his drawings in court. I am convinced he had established, without realizing it, a reputation as a good guy in that court. 

Like I said, I have so many Daniel stories… how he loved and helped my daughter with her art projects. The many things he gave me over the years. How he loved Cuba… he traveled there more than once, in secret, afraid it would hurt his job opportunities here in Miami.

Daniel, my friend, I shall miss you. I already do. I have no one to call and it’s already Wednesday. You’re in a better place, I am sure. The light there must be great. So paint to your heart’s content. May you rest in light.