We’re lucky to get one family in this life that’s willing to push us when we’re frustrated, when the odds are piled so highly against us that we just don’t fight any more. Our families can be that wave that sends us tumbling onto the dry shore when we think we’re drowning.
Gustavo Osorio has not one such family, but two.
The 22-year-old lives with his brother, sister and parents in a townhouse with its own little garden out front. The living room is sparsely decorated, but looming large over the couch is a painting of an angel Gustavo made when he was in high school.
That painting, and several more like, it, brought Gustavo to know and love his second family. They’re a bit more diverse, and he only gets to see them once a month.
That angel painting is what earned Gustavo a scholarship from the Burbank Art Assn., a group of area artists who have come to know and love the Osorio clan and see them through troubled days.
The group helped put Gustavo on a path to achieving his dream of becoming an animator. With that scholarship he was able to attend Pasadena City College. He had plans to transfer to Cal Arts and hopefully show his work to Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network or Disney.
But since age 1, Gustavo had episodes where fluid would build in his brain; doctors were able to control it. In fall 2009, his head began to hurt. That November he had a surgery to remove some of the fluid.
The following February, Gustavo was in a coma. It lasted two months.
“From there, he hasn’t been the same,” said his mother, Catalina.
She raises one hand to her mouth. The other holds Gustavo’s hand.
“I was doing good,” Gustavo said. “I was smart. I was getting good grades.”
Gustavo suffers from memory loss. For a time, it seemed the art that he loved might never come back. He couldn’t write, and had trouble with speech.
The Osorio family was determined to keep him going. While father Gustavo Sr. was at work, Catalina and her children — Jaime and Vanessa — took Gustavo to the monthly meetings of the Burbank Art Assn.
If their artist couldn’t participate, they sure would.
Catalina took over the group’s hospitality function, coordinating and serving refreshments at the meetings. These entail a workshop by a professional artist, and every few months the group hosts a gallery show featuring two of its members at the GeoSystems building on Victory Boulevard.
Lisa Caddel, president of the association, said the Osorios’ work has become the backbone of their meetings.
“If they decided they were done with us, there would be a giant hole,” she said. “In smiles and in attitude, they’re just wonderful folks.”
After Gustavo’s surgeries, the association encouraged him to display his past work in a gallery show. Members say they belong to the group because they want to encourage each other. Though Gustavo might never be able to paint again, they encouraged him to try.
“I know that art can be a tremendous help for someone in his condition,” said Arline Helm, who coordinates the group’s gallery shows. “It’s something he can do and he can do it well.”
At the association’s last meeting in June, Gustavo surprised them all with a landscape he’d been working on. It may not have been as technically advanced as his work that has hung in City Hall, Burbank Public Library and McCambridge Park, but it still contains the bold artistic spirit that prevails in his work.
“I’m trying to get back to doing what I was doing before,” Gustavo said. “The best I can do is try to get back.”
He’s starting small. One new landscape is a long journey from where he was two years ago, and for now Gustavo feels that’s enough. His own show, he says, is still a dream.
Until now, his mother, Catalina, smiles and laughs as she recalls the fun times her family has had with the Burbank Art Assn. On hearing this from Gustavo, however, she is serious.
“But if you work at it, honey, you can do that.”
She squeezes his hand again, held close on the soft couch underneath Gustavo’s angel.