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The Prodigious Son

Ferdie Pacheco is a colorful man.

In his rich life he's served as ring doctor for 12 boxing champions, been a TV sports analyst, authored several well received memoirs, seen Ybor City change faces and now, retired to Miami with his wife Luisita Sevilla, he paints.

Unschooled — yet a student of Van Gogh and the Mexican two-dimensional style popularized by Diego Rivera — he renders expressionistic images in bright oils lined boldly in black. And while not great art, his paintings are fine, accessible and full of character, as if each of his distinct passions is a hue on his palette.

Pacheco's subjects reflect his life and influences: dinner at the original Columbia Restaurant, exiled Cubans in Miami, Jose Marti, Frida Kahlo and Muhammad Ali, for whom Pacheco worked for 15 years. Just as valuable as these images are the histories they represent, and Pacheco, a popular raconteur and living record of Tampa's past, is glad to share his stories.

So with a twist of self-promotion Don King would be proud of, Pacheco speaks and gives a book signing at the reception for his latest exhibit, Ferdie Pacheco: A Son of Ybor, in the visual arts gallery of Hillsborough Community College- Ybor City.

The opening takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7.

The exhibit of nostalgic paintings focuses on the Tampa Pacheco knew growing up in the 1930s and '40s. A lector reads a novel to rows of cigar rollers on a factory floor below. An Italian man pets his cat while listening to an Enrico Caruso record. Old men play bocce ball in a dirt lot. Couples tango. Couples jitterbug. A trolley rumbles through Ybor.

The lively times he depicts are recounted in his entertaining book, Ybor City Chronicles, a title he's sure to have on hand for purchase, as well as the coffee table collection Pacheco's Art of Ybor City, both published by the University Press of Florida.

But hearing stories straight from the horse's mouth is sure to be fun, as Pacheco is at his best when at the center of a room.

HCC-Ybor Gallery is located in the HCC Performing Arts Building, at Palm Avenue and 15th Street, Ybor. 813-253-7674.