Robert Bleier's a normal suburban dad with a gift and a challenge. His gift is for painting stunning landscapes starring the DeLorean. His challenge is a cancer fight entering its third round. For Bleier, the two are inextricably linked.
There isn't much to differentiate Bleier's living room from the dens of other 70s-era houses bundled around cul-de-secs in the far north Houston suburb of Kingwood. There's a small television hooked up to a Nintendo Wii, plush department store couches, a coffee table and assorted knicknacks collected by his adolescent son and daughter.
But this is his art studio, gallery, and storage space. Along the fireplace sits a stack of 12 finished canvasses, each dedicated to the DeLorean DMC-12 and the American landscape.
A computer programmer by training, the 43-year-old Bleier mostly abandoned his love of drawing after getting married and settling down.
"A few years ago I wanted to get back into it, but life starts throwing things at you," Bleier explains while adjusting his DeLorean Motor Company hat. "And then I got diagnosed with cancer and I realized you can't keep putting things off."
A lifelong car enthusiast, Bleier used his diagnosis of colon cancer to finally pursue his dream of painting a series depicting the landscapes he loved and the car he'd always wanted. He started producing the paintings while undergoing treatment.
"I loved the DeLorean and I realized there's a lack of painting about that topic... hey, no competition!" jokes Bleier as he takes out the first painting of a DMC-12, weaving its way around rocks along a Rocky Mountain road.
As with all his paintings, the image is vibrant and incredibly detailed. I ask Bleier if he chose the acrylic medium because of these characteristics. He gestures to the adjacent dining table and points out he's working in a house full of kids and two small dogs.
"Acrylic dries fast."
Not surprisingly, most of the 12 works reference his experience fighting cancer. The painting "Which Way" depicts a storm approaching a DeLorean from behind on a country road, the driver forced to determine which way to go for safety.
"Whenever you get cancer, you feel like it's stalking you, you wonder if the storm's over, are you in the eye of it? or is the storm going to come back," said Bleier.
Another is a southern-style home with a large wrap-around porch featuring a DeLorean in the driveway. After overcoming his colon cancer, it reappeared again in his stomach lining as he was painting the home and so he decided the image was a sad sort of homecoming.
He's still hopeful, even though the cancer's showed up again in his liver. This hope is clear in a painting showing rays of light breaking through a dark sky on a DeLorean with its gullwing doors up, symbolic of him eventually defeating cancer.
Not all of the paintings relate to the disease. My personal favorite is "Need A Hand," which takes place at a balloon festival on a snowy mountain top. It was inspired by a real experience in Georgia where the family happened upon a man setting up a balloon and volunteering to help get it flying. The snow was added for the additional artistic challenge.
"I was pleased with the tracks in the snow, too, I wasn't sure if I could pull that off."
One things the paintings lack are people. You never see a driver or anyone else in the paintings. Bleier explains this is because he wants people to envision themselves in the scenes, much as he has. His precocious daughter adds another reason: "making people is hard."
The number of paintings was selected because of its significance with the vehicle's name, and Bleier's been reluctant to break up the pieces for sale until they can be shown together in one space that isn't his living room. He'd approached some galleries, but had no luck until he contacted a curator at the local community college, who directed him to Dandee Danao, creative director of the War'Hous gallery in Houston's bustling museum district.
"They told me one of his missions was to be showed in a gallery, and I thought perfect," Danao told me on the phone. "That's the type of people I want in, people who do great work but are turned down by other galleries."
Danao isn't just a fan of the story; as a painter working in acrylics, he also appreciates the craft behind it.
"They're pretty cool, he does scenery paintings with DeLorean cars, like a DeLorean going down a mountain, and it's really vibrant color and it's good art work... who doesn't like a DeLorean?" exclaimed Danao.
The full set of paintings will be shown at the gallery on October 23rd as part of a show featuring local artists and, coincidentally, supporting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, which provides money for breast cancer research.
Creating a series of 12 DeLorean landscapes and getting those images selected for a gallery show are amazing accomplishments, especially for someone trying to raise a family and fight cancer. But Bleier has one more dream: driving a DeLorean. Despite admiring the cars since they debuted, Bleier has never been behind the wheel of one.
"Every time I've been closed to getting one something comes up: I get cancer, I thought I was cured of it, was ready to get one again, and the cancer came back," says Bleier.
For the moment, Bleier has a small scale model of a DeLorean he uses for modeling purposes and an authentic taillight. It's a piece of the '80s, and yet still futuristic, a reminder when the road ahead was filled with potential.
Conveniently, he lives less than five miles away from the new DeLorean Motor Company HQ in Humble, Texas. DMC Vice President James Espey, a fan of Bleier's work, has already promised to bring out a fleet of DeLoreans for the event.
The paintings will be for sale at the gallery.
"I put a lot of me into them, especially at a time in my life where I was going up and down on a roller coaster road; having cancer and then beating it again. It was a tough time in my life full of triumphs and downfalls," said Bleier. "I think it's time to sell them and let someone else enjoy them."
Even if it's a while before he can own more than just a few pieces to the car of his dreams, Bleier is committed to continuing his craft and his fight with cancer. Before I left he showed off a line-drawing of a DeLorean with both doors up facing the viewer.
"I'm ready to start painting again, I've got a surprise for the gallery show."