Degas of Panama

Art is magical - it not only sparks emotion but tells a story without words. Every artist strives to be known for his or her story - hoping that one day they will be remembered as the artist who captured a subject matter and brought it to life through art.

Painting by Al Sprague showing pollera dancers from the back
Orange Dancers, Al Sprague, 2020

Being a daughter of two artists, I have been exposed to the world of art for as long as I can recall. I have studied the Masters and appreciate their stories and all that they have taught artists and admirers today.

As a young child, I danced ballet for 14 years. Needless to say, Edgar Degas was one of my favorite artists. At first, I admired him because he painted beautiful works showing the world of ballet. As I continued to study his career and portfolio I learned he was a master at capturing the human figure.

I have always said my father, Al Sprague is the Degas of Panama. His beautiful renditions of the polleras show not only the beauty of the dancers, but the pride Panama has in a culture that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Blue Dancers, Edgar Degas, 1890

As a young student at American University in Washington D.C., my father painted many paintings of my mother.  Much of these were used for his Master's thesis.   Recently, I received an email from a gentleman inquiring about a painting he had fallen in love with over 30 years ago.  He had cherished it over the years and was digging into the history of the work and confirming that the painting was my father's. When looking at the photo attached to the email, I was shocked to find a painting of my mother.  

Just as Degas was mastering the human figure through his early work, so was my father. This, and so many early pieces of my father's, remind me of Degas' paintings of women combing their hair, taking a bath, and getting dressed.

Painting of a woman sitting on a bed fixing her hair
Barbara Fixing her Hair, Al Sprague, 1964

Looking through the door and capturing the figure "doing everyday ordinary things" was practice for my father. He continues to use these techniques when sharing a story of the market and lottery vendors, the fishermen, and the pollera dancers dancing down the street. It is as if he captures them in a moment in time allowing the viewer to witness a story in action.

Very similar to Edgar Degas, my father began his career painting portraits of family and friends. This provided him even more practice at painting the human figure. I can clearly remember sitting downstairs under our duplex in Balboa while my father painted portraits in his studio which was actually an enclosed garage.

Early Portrait by Al Sprague

Degas was best known for mastering the human figure in motion. His paintings, drawings, and bronzes of the ballet dancers are typically what most people recall when they think of Degas and his work. He captured the beauty of the dance and the drama of the performance. Today, in his converted garage studio, I believe my father has become the Degas of Panama - mastering the human figure in motion and best known for his pollera paintings - capturing the beauty of the dance, the drama of the the performance and most of all the pride in the culture of the people.

I know, in my heart, that in years to come, my father's work will be on display around the world and the story of Panama and its culture will be told through his portfolio.

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