His boyhood memories are in the colors of a little girl's Easter dress—pastel pinks, yellows and blues. And it is in these shades that Frank Goitia brushes his acrylic adolescent remembrances in childlike but well-defined images of long-gone buildings and people onto canvas.
Goitia's memories may flit through his brain in pale tints, but his recall is as sharp as the images on a new flat screen TV. In a deliberate manner, with verbal exclamation marks sometimes taking his voice up an octave or two, the 62-year-old Goitia spoke of growing up in Boise as one of five children born to Basque parents. His mother, also a native Idahoan, moved to Spain as a young girl with her parents but returned during the Spanish Civil War. While working at a boardinghouse in Gooding, she met Goitia's father, a shepherd who came to Idaho from Spain in 1920, at a sheepherders' picnic in the late 1930s.
In 1945, the Goitias took over the Royal Hotel, which sat where City Hall now stands. They ran it until "urban renewal took it over" in 1970. ("It was demolished in '72 or '73," Goitia said sadly.) Growing up in the hotel, downtown Boise was a playground for Goitia and his siblings. The source of Goitia's work lies in the memory of watching movies at the Ada Theater, now the Egyptian Theatre; getting a soda at the Chevron on the corner of Capitol and Main streets near the Royal Hotel; visiting his mother's friend Juana Echevarria at her house, which sat in what is now the parking lot adjacent to Bar Gernika; and playing in and around the concrete jungle gym that was downtown Boise in the '50s and '60s. He works from memory since little of those places still exists.
"Downtown Boise was my back yard," Goitia said. "I would visit all of these places on a regular basis. It's so vivid in my memory, although I never thought it would all be gone. It's almost like those places, [like] those theaters, belonged to me in a weird way. I would sit in the front row like it was mine."
He captures those memories in his art. In one piece that hangs in his brother Loui's salon (Hairlines, near Chef Lou's at 8th Street), Goitia painted a picture of kids at the Ada Theater. The view is of the backs of their heads, their little shoes up on the seats in front of them, waiting for the velvet curtains that still hang in the Egyptian to part and for the movie to begin. In another, Juana Echevarria sits stoically on her couch.
Goitia's paintings reveal people and places suspended in carnation pinks and sky blues. They are still-life portraits as nostalgic as anything snapped by a vintage Leica camera.
From the time he was small, Goitia recognized, in some fashion, he would be an artist. "From my earliest recollections [I knew]," he said. "As a matter of fact, I'd draw on the wallpaper at home with Crayolas. I was always drawing, it seems like."
Though a career in art wasn't endorsed in the Goitia household—"My parents were very pragmatic people," Goitia said—the family patriarch did encourage, however unintentionally, his son's talent, displaying it like a parlor trick.
"My dad would ask friends if I could paint something for them," Goitia said, his voice lilting up at the end of his sentence, seemingly surprised at the vividness of the memory. "They wanted me to paint [pictures of] their homes in Spain." They would give the 18-year-old Goitia worn photos they'd brought with them across so many miles and he would, in turn, give them paintings of their old family homes now so far away to hang in their new ones.
Goitia attended Boise State in the late '60s to early '70s and graduated with a degree in ad design. He worked at the Idaho Statesman in the late '70s on ad pasteup then started working at defunct department store The Bazaar designing windows, all the while painting. The trend of coffee shop and restaurant art shows is not a new one, and in 1980, he had his first show at Ray's Oasis, a restaurant that is now Angell's. Loui was a waiter there and Goitia would visit him at work, seeing different art shows.
"The owner told me whatever I made was mine. She even furnished the opening night reception," he recalled fondly. Noodles, which was on Main Street at the time, was also a good venue for him. They, too, let him keep all of the proceeds from his sales, and they kept his work on the walls for a full month. Those shows kept him painting.
"I'm one of those people, [that] if I don't have a goal in sight, I'll just sit and watch Oprah," he said laughing.
In 1989, Goitia started working part time in the gift shop at Boise Art Museum—where he worked until 2007—and part time at Tates Rents, painting props. "That was really a lot of fun," he said. "I enjoyed painting all day long."
Goitia still works at Tates, but as times changed so did his responsibilities. He moved from painting arches to maintaining them to washing the dishes returned from parties and weddings. Though he periodically decorates an arch or two with a spray of silk sunflowers and plastic peonies, cleanup is his main responsibility.
"Now, I'm pretty much the dishwasher," he laughed. He likes his work, gets benefits and is "not a kid anymore." And a serendipitous phone call helped him refocus on his art.
"About a year ago, Jacque Crist [of J Crist Gallery] called and asked what I was working on and what I wanted to work on," Goitia said. He said he wanted to continue working on what he calls his "Memory" series, so he started to do vignettes of old downtown Boise. One of the mixed-media pieces Goitia took to Crist shows the interior of the Pinney Theater, which used to be on Jefferson Street in the parking lot across the street from where Boise Blue is now. In the background is the Pinney's grand long winding staircase, and on a small ledge attached to the bottom of the canvas stands a wooden cut out of a smiling usher ready to guide patrons through little stanchions and chains Goitia made and attached to the ledge. Another piece Goitia did was of himself and his sister Anita, little wooden cutouts staring through the window of the Up-To-Date Cafe, which was near The Bouquet on Main Street. "They had caramel apples on a rotating table. [The painting is us] standing outside looking in at them."
Although J Crist Gallery is now closed, Goitia's avenues for getting his work out didn't necessarily close with it. He doesn't own a computer, but maybe someone will convince him to eventually put up a Web site. He also has the pieces at his brother's salon, and his friend Paula Forney, owner of Cheers, has offered him space to put up some of his work in her store. And for as long as he's able to, Goitia will spread his brushes, paints and canvases across his dining room table, painting his memories and chronicling Boise's past. All the while keeping Oprah at bay.
Goitia's work hangs at Hairlines, 409 S. Eighth St., Suite 100, 208-383-9009 and Cheers, 828 W. Idaho St., 208-342-1805, cheersinvitations.homestead.com.