Beneath the Paint Lies a Hidden Talent

Painter David Milton is trying his hand at film, having written a screenplay about his war correspondent father. Photo by Jody Tiongco
Painter David Milton is trying his hand at film, having written a screenplay about his war correspondent father. Photo by Jody Tiongco

The iconic Wigwam Motel, vintage gas stations, dilapidated coffee shops, countless other structures along the storied highway Route 66 are subjects that inspire painter David Milton. His oil and watercolor works find patrons at Laguna Beach’s art festivals and further afield, at corporations and museums.

Concentrating on the paintings’ careful line work and palette, chosen to give new life to structures and signage long gone under the wrecking ball, a viewer senses a peaceful vibe among works by Milton, one of 140 artists exhibiting at this year’s Festival of Arts. The show opened this past Sunday.

One would never suspect the Laguna Beach artist was born to a firebrand New York labor activist and journalist who wielded both a pen and a firearm and heroically saved a comrade and British novelist on the battlefield.

The father imbued his son with a sense of activism that surfaces in the artist’s appreciation for history and preservation for a bygone life.

Driven by personal politics and keen sense of social justice, Harry Milton, who used the alias of Wolf Kupinsky, fought both Stalinists and fascists in the Spanish Civil War while ostensibly dispatched to cover the battlefront for a socialist New York newspaper.

Having been shaped by his father’s activism early in life, Milton, 66, has now transformed his father’s tumultuous life into “Bayonets and Blood,” a screenplay that both he and co-writer Ret Talbot hope becomes a feature film.

After writing 30 of what would ultimately become a 115-page treatment, Milton contacted Talbot, a former resident, to serve as lead writer for the screenplay.

The story evolves around Harry Milton’s determination to evade a U.S. ban on travel to Spain in order to join the fight of the Marxist Unification Worker’s Party, a group adhering to Leon Trotsky’s rather than Josef Stalin’s rhetoric.

Replete with love interests and fictional spice to drive the plot, it reveals the little known, real-life friendship between diminutive Milton Sr. and Eric Blair, a lanky, six-foot Englishman and fellow writer better known as George Orwell, author of “Animal Farm” and “1984.”

During the course of their travails, the two soldier writers blended their somewhat divergent politics. And in one intense battle, Milton saved Blair’s life by applying pressure to a neck wound until medics arrived.

“Wolf was more complex and politically nuanced, but Eric became more politically savvy under Wolf’s influence,” according to Talbot. “I knew him as Eric Blair, not George Orwell…I’m not sure I saved his life but I think I taught him a thing or two about politics” Kupinsky says in the screenplay.

The screenwriting collaborators met at the Sawdust Festival where Talbot built a booth for his artist wife. They remained close friends. Talbot, now of Maine, regards the project as a labor of love but hopes that it might succeed commercially.

The literary anthology Hummingbird Review recently published an excerpt of the screenplay and a book signing is planned on the Festival of Arts’ grounds on July 13, said Susan Davis, director of events. Milton will mix with other festival exhibitors who are also authors, including Eric Gerdau, Lee Munsell, Michael Situ, Ken Auster and Christopher Bliss.


Lowdown on Festival Exhibitors

Here are a few highlights of the Festival of Arts, which opened this past Sunday:

Forty-six-year year exhibitor Jacquie Moffett’s water colors are as intricately beautiful as etchings and not to be missed.

Tom Lamb once again is exhibiting what he describes as Abstract Expressionist aerial photographs. A 25-year festival veteran, he has a knack of even making an aerial view of a compost processing plant look intriguing (“Desert Produce”). But, viewers will have to wait for excerpts of his new, more representational series shot recently in India, he said.

Viewers will already be intrigued by Robin Johnson, exhibiting her work for only the second summer here. Her soft-focus paintings based on reminiscences of her Orange County upbringing and travels through California inspired her Home series. “Troy,” points to the Golden State’s economic diversity, but allows interpretation, she said.

Shelley Evans Rapp’s “Spirit Keepers” are reminders that folk art receives little exposure around here. Viewers have a choice of picking spirit dolls that range from earthy to elegant. Regardless whether one casts a spell or makes a wish, they deliver beauty.

Viewers will also enjoy re-connecting with Elizabeth McGee, who first exhibited four years ago. Still photorealistic, her portraits have been refined by warmth and maturity of expression. Perhaps McGee might speak for the Festival as well when she says: “People say I’ve evolved.”

The Festival of Arts’ co-production, the annual staging of the Pageant of the Masters, titled “The Big Picture,” opens on June 7 at 8:30 p.m.


Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters, 650 Laguna Canyon Rd.

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