Saturday, August 8, 2020

Happy Dog Mural


Spot, The Happy Dog
It isn't a big mural, this latest one, only 5 x 2.2 meter, but it incorporated everything that makes painting a mural fun and challenging: soaring heat, threatening skies, ultimately a tremendous rainstorm, some big fat flies that would not leave us alone and the sheer pleasure of painting on a large scale. Even better to do it together with my assistant Henry and painting one of my very favourite subject matters: a dog!

Henry Calel sketching

We painted this mural at the entrance of El Chucho Feliz (The Happy Dog), a facility that offers training, daycare and accommodation for dogs in Antigua Guatemala. The dog depicted is a special one. I never had the pleasure to meet him in person, but the stories about Spot are legendary. He was a Great Dane, born deaf and blind. Completely white with just one black spot. A gentle giant who, after being rescued, lived a happy live at El Chucho Feliz. Sadly, Spot suddenly got ill earlier this year and crossed the rainbow bridge. Spot touched the lives of all who knew him and will be fondly remembered. This painted tribute will help to do so.

Work in progress (42ºC in the sun, no wind!)

El Chucho Feliz has plenty of wall space, so hopefully this won't the last one!

Chilli (portrait by Carin Steen)

This mural was sponsored by another great dog, though much smaller in size, the ever smiling Chilli with her wiggly butt. She's one of the dogs I've been sitting while stuck in Guatemala and I couldn't have wished for a better companion! Chili loves it at El Chucho Feliz, and has learned tons from Marjolaine Perrault, hence this mural sponsored by her owners in appreciation for all the good care. Thank you so much, Chilli & Co!!!

Spot and me

And another one of Chilli...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A New Mural in the Old Capital

Driving through Ciudad Vieja, the former capital of Guatemala, is hardly eventful. Besides a glimpse of the brilliantly whitewashed cathedral with the Agua volcano as a backdrop, the town is unremarkable and mostly full of traffic. Even in the midst of a pandemic, without the regular flock of chicken busses and only alternating plates allowed to circulate, traffic is overwhelming and crossing the road is not for the feint of heart.
The streets are narrow, with one-story homes and businesses on both sides, leaving little space for pedestrians. Whereas the architecture is mostly typical colonial, the paint is too drab, the walls too covered with fading ads, the air too polluted for the town to be considered beautiful.

How different it must have been in its heyday! It wasn't called Ciudad Vieja (Old City) then, and it wasn't the country's first capital either. That one was named Guatemala, which means 'Forested Land' in Nahuatl, the language of the Spanish's allies who came from what is now Mexico. This Maya Kakchiquel settlement, Iximché, the second most important city in the Guatemalan highlands, was declared capital in 1524. It didn't last long. The Kaqchikel were initially allies but soon started to rebel against the Spanish conquistadors. They deserted the city which two yers later was burned down by the Spanish. They packed their bags, saddled up and founded a new capital on the south-west slope of the Agua volcano in 1527, July 25th, feast day of Saint James for which the town was called Santiago de los Caballeros.

The big boss in town was Pedro Alvarado, but he was off fighting the indigenous further up north in what is now Mexico. It didn't go too well and while dying on the battlefield, he bequeathed his wealth and right to rule to his wife, the Spanish noblewoman Beatriz de la Cueva (not his first wife, he was previously wedded to Beatriz's sister Francisca, until she died). Beatriz received notice on August 28th and was besides herself with grief. She immediately ordered the walls of the beautiful palace, overlooking the town, to be painted black, both inside and out. But she wasn't so out of it that she forgot about her responsibilities. Actually, her brother Francisco had been put in charge during her husband's absence and it was only logical that he would continue with his duties. But no, Beatriz summoned him and the rest of the city's upper crust and declared that she would take over from that moment on. On September 9th, she signed the paperwork that put her in power as “la sin ventura”, the unfortunate one, because of her recent loss. Little did she know there was much more to lose...

Because... there was a plot against her.
The royal treasurer and his supporters had been planning a coup for the early morning of September 11th. But Beatriz, now the first female governor in the New World, found out about it and sent her brother Lieutenant Francisco, in charge of day-to-day matters, to arrest the men. They hid in an abandoned house and avoided arrest.
Now, history might have taken a turn right then and there if it weren't for a combination of unfortunate natural disasters. There are conflicted theories of what really happened, but most versions contain one or more of the following phenomena: a strong earthquake; the wall of a volcanic lake collapsing causing a flood; extensive rain; mudslides; lahar.

Beatriz heard the rumble, grabbed her little daughter by the arm and ran for shelter in the chapel. Unfortunately, the roof of the chapel collapsed and crushed her to death. And that was the end of it, both for the first female governor and for the second capital of Guatemala. (Some have used this story to illustrate the fact that women should not enter politics, but that is, of course, utter nonsense.)

The town was completely destroyed. But two years later, we're in 1543 now, a new capital arose in the nearby Panchoy valley, carrying the same name of Santiago de los Caballeros, now known as Antigua (as in “Ancient Guatemala” versus “Guatemala”, the current capital).
The town suffered major earthquakes in 1565, 1575, 1577, 1585, 1717 and 1751. But the one in 1773, that destroyed major parts of town, was the last straw and lead to the decision to move the capital once and for all to its current location.

And to make a really long story short, it has absolutely NOTHING to do with what this post is about: a new mural, in Ciudad Vieja!

The Corona virus has affected my mural plans quite a bit. I was just about to start painting with a group of adolescents in Alotenango, after a week of preparatory workshops, when the schools were closed and the state of emergency announced on March 16. It is very unlikely we'll be able to continue the project this year, so I was looking for other opportunities.

About two years ago, one of my neighbours in Antigua asked me if I could paint a mural at the school she worked for in Ciudad Vieja. I promised I'd keep it in mind, but nothing ever came of it.

While discussing the future of the Alotenango project with the kids' teacher, he told me that his wife is director of a small school and she very much would like a mural. Turns out it was the same school in Ciudad Vieja, so it felt like it was meant to be.
Of course normally we would involve the kids in the project, but with the schools closed, there was no way. Logistically there were some challenges (no public transportation, alternating circulation of cars etc.) as well as our safety to think about. But in the end it turned out to be a perfect project under these circumstances.

The school is located in one of those buzzling, narrow side streets of Ciudad Vieja, this part of town well known for its woodworkers and coffin manufacturers. The school was founded in 2009 by a group of teachers who wanted to offer quality education to children from nearby rural communities whose parents had come to Ciudad Vieja to look for work or because they had lost their homes. These children come from difficult and very poor backgrounds, quite often behind in their academic skills. The school currently caters to 58 elementary students and 12 kids in kindergarten.

Soon, the school will have its own digital library. The teahers already made space for it, but it just looked like a dump. And that's were MuralArte Guate came in. I decided on a background of monochrome colours, in the same colour scheme as the logo of the project that is called Monocramía. It now looks a bit like Guatemalan typical fabric. On it are several dots or holes with scenes representing various elements of life: outer space, jungle, kids with books, the ocean and a scenic view of Ciudad Vieja with its cathedral and volcano in the background. There's also a laptop representing modern technology and a cable connecting all these elements.
It was so nice to be painting a mural again, together with my fabulous assistant Henry Calel. Such a pity we couldn't involve kids in the process, but we hope they'll enjoy their new library a lot.

This mural was made possible thanks to a legacy of the Eben Haëzer Church in Klazienaveen in Holland.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Ancient Art and Modern Kids in Alotenango

The early afternoon light makes colours pop out even more. Overwhelming fuchia-pink and purple bougainvillea grows over bright white walls, set against a deep blue sky. Dramatic clouds of cotton white and menacing grey, with little shades of grey (much less 50) in between, flock around the top of the volcano.
Blurry colours flash by the windows as the bus speeds over the highway, weaving in and out of traffic, faster than the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. Music blares over the speakers, but not loud enough for the driver to stop talking on his phone. Who needs hands on the steering wheel when the bus and its load is protected by a teary-eyed Jesus over the rear view mirror, flanked by two Playboy bunny silhouettes?
No room for more thoughts as the ayudante wriggles his way through the isle, squeezing through tight packed bodies while charging $0,50 for the ride. Just ten more minutes of elbows, buttocks and thighs. I'm on my way to work.

A little over a year ago I promised the kids of the Escuela Comunitaria de Arte (a municipal art course) in Alotenango to come back and here I am, for a series of workshops and the creation of a mural. And as usual in Guatemala, the project is yet again one big lesson in patience and flexibility.
My initial plan was to paint a mural in the classroom where the course is being taught. The teacher and kids were all for it, we got the new mayor's permission too, but after the Christmas holidays, the space looked like this:

Now, two months later, the space looks like this:

And since the mayor has only recently been installed, things are moving sloooowly...
Nonetheless, teacher Rolando and his students have been assigned another space, on the top floor of a lawyer's office, which is located above a convenience store and something they call here a “bookshop”. It sounds big, but it isn't, much less for 20 students. But it does have a perfect view over the soon to be painted wall, a stair-step-shaped partition of the sport complex across the street. When we asked the mayor permission to paint this wall, I was planning on the side within the sport complex, but this side, facing a busy road, is much more visible. And since we didn't specify which side we wanted to paint in the first place, we decided to go for the more public side. But I'm getting ahead of things...
The soon to be painted wall, the sport complex and in the background the Agua Volcano

I started preparing this project back in December and the worksheets I was working on soon turned into a 45-page manual. It begins with a section on murals throughout the history of art and goes on to explain in detailed matter how to create a community mural, including on how to collaboratively decide on a theme and design. Adding a section on art history might seem a bit unnecessary, but most of the kids I wrote the manual for have very little access to any cultural context, and I know from experience they are actually very much into it. Especially this group of 20 students. The youngest is 8, the oldest in her 60s, but most of the students are between 12 and 16 years old. So far I spent a whole week teaching art history and it was great fun! From the earliest cave paintings we went on to study the Maya murals of Bonampak, San Bartolo and Calakmul. The Romans taught us about fresco technique and in the section about medieval art we discovered how the image of Jesus Christ has changed over the centuries, with lots of intercultural Copy/Paste. The kids had no idea that the first depictions of Jesus were actually of a chubby boy with curly hair and a wand. Or that Nike's logo represents a wing of the Greek goddess of victory.
Furthermore we dove into the Renaissance, the Mexican revolution, all the way to today's graffiti and street art.

The teacher has asked me to consider including some samples of different art movements in the mural, even before he knew I was going to teach some art history workshops. So that was a given. To take the idea even further, I figured it would be nice if the students would paint several famous artworks on the wall, as if they were hanging there, framed and all. It would not only be a great exercise in painting a mural and a fun exploration through the history of art, but a permanent art exhibition in the classroom!
If only the space hadn't been stocked up to the ceiling with toilets....

Plan B. We still painted famous artworks, but on cardboard. Unfortunately on a much smaller scale (because of lack of space), but otherwise with pretty much the same techniques. It wasn't easy, especially how to figure out what scale to use for the grid, but all in all the students did well and learned a lot. We have a few more things to go over before we start the real work on Monday....

This project in process is being sponsored by Dr, Jim Bader. The manual is sponsored by the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids.

To be continued!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Forest for Cats

If it's true that the purring of cats lowers your cortisol while raising serotonin and oxytocin levels, then I'm now as relaxed as one can physically be. Two days in a cat shelter does that to you, especially while doing what I love most: painting murals.

After a seven month pause (due to my move to Spain), it was great to pick up a brush again and even more so doing it at one of my favourite spots in Antigua Guatemala, Unidos para los Animales' rescue.
In 2018 I painted a tropical garden at the cats´ home while new walls were erected on both sides of the garden. Now those walls were ready, as smooth and white as can be. An 18 meter long canvas waiting to be transformed.
The request was to paint trees, birds, nature. Since the tropical garden with its kittens is pretty wild, colour-wise, I opted for a more subdued design this time. Soft pastels in the background with trees in shades of a greenish blue. The result? You decide for your self.

Besides the constant back-rubs and occasional affectionate nibbles by the cats, it was also great to see my human friends at the rescue and to work again with my assistant Henry Navarijo Calel. He has painted a few murals himself in my absence and he is getting really good!
Henry and Macey
So, one mural down! More to come in the next few weeks!

Monday, January 13, 2020

The brand new Manual for Making Murals!!!

My trip to Guatemala is coming closer and I'm very excited about the two projects on my agenda! One is painting a mural in the two dorms of a brand new clinic for children with cleft lip and palate, currently under construction, by Tess Unlimited. This project is sponsored by the Dutch foundation Colour 4 Kids.

The other project is a mural with the students (age 9-17) of Alotenango´s municipal art course. I'll be teaching the kids over the course of two weeks about the history of muralism, how to create one from scratch, how to pick a theme etc. This project is generously sponsored by Dr. Jim Bader.

While I was working on my lesson plans, the worksheets were getting more and more elaborate and I figured it would be pretty cool to actually turn them into a a real book. And so the Manual for Making Murals was born!

It's 43 pages long and includes:
  • A short history of muralism through the centuries (prehistoric art, ancient Maya culture, Roman murals, medieval art, Renaissance, Mexican muralism, street art and graffiti)
  • Colour (colour theory, colour psychology)
  • Why painting community murals (impact, audience, how to get involved)
  • Picking a theme (exercise to collaboratively pick a theme)
  • Making a design (composition, background, symbolism, scale, enlarging through grid)
  • Preparing the work (prepping the wall, getting materials ready, how to take care of equipment)
  • Painting the mural (how to divide the work, mix paints, cleanup)
  • The aftermath... (inauguration, press release, credits, thanks, report etc.)

The manual is written in Spanish and include a lot of activities for kids to do. The graphic design is in black and white, to make reproduction cheap and easy. (The coloured cover is optional). Right now I'm the process of finishing editing (many thanks to Neyla González for her corrections) and then the mural is ready for print! The students in Alotenango will of course each receive a copy, thanks to the Colour 4 Kids Foundation.

For the near future, the idea is to offer the manual in PDF format to whomever plans to create a community mural, in exchange for a $25 donation towards MuralArte's projects.

Soon more news on these upcoming projects!!!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

More murals in Guatemala!

About a year ago I worked with some of the coolest kids in Guatemala. I met them through my contact at the townhall in Alotenango, the town that was recovering from the deadly volcano eruption in June. I was about to paint a mural in the townhall and was offered assistance by the students of the Municipal Art Academy which turned out to be an art course for children and adolescents. The Municipality of Alotenango provides a teacher and classroom, the 15-20 participants bring their own materials.
I can always use some help, so, yes! And help they did! Although it was the first mural they ever painted, it was clear that they had both talent and some experience painting. They were eager to learn and we had a lot of fun. We finished the mural way too soon to their liking, the kids wanted more! So I decided to offer a few workshops and although the course had officially already stopped for the holidays, the kids were eager to assist.
 Since children in Guatemala don’t have regular access to museums or art galleries, I decided to do workshops on some famous and inspiring artists. The first one was Henri Matisse. We started the class hands-on, painting large sheets of paper with different techniques. The goal was to cover up the paper, not painting something recognizable, so the kids had a lot of fun experimenting with new techniques without the pressure of achieving a neat result.
Afterwards we explored the life and work of Matisse, which fascinated the participants. By the time the presentation was done, the sheets of paper had dried.  We discussed what we were going to create and decided on a volcano erupting butterflies, each one a symbol for the deceased after the eruption of the Fuego Volcano six months earlier. The kids starting cutting and pasting and soon the volcano took shape. It turned out quite beautiful and the concept was used again for a mural at the shelter in Alotenango, a few months later.
The Frida Kahlo workshop was also a success, this time resulting in beautiful self-portraits in soft pastels. Saying goodbye to those kids was tough, but I promised I’d try to come back…

By now I have changed the volcanoes of Guatemala for the north coast of Spain. But I haven’t forgotten about Guatemala and can’t wait to go back and paint some more…

I’m planning a trip in February of 2020. I already have a mural in a clinic lined up and hope to find financing for another project with those fantastic kids in Alotenango. This time the theme will be Diego Rivera and the project will take a full two weeks. We’ll of course explore the life and work of Rivera as well as the history of murals in general, in its socio-historical context. We’ll also study myths and legends of Guatemala. And then, like Rivera painted the history of Mexico on public walls, we’ll depict local legends on our own mural. It will be painted on a wall (approximately 3 x 5.5meters) in their own classroom of the municipal building, so they’ll be able to enjoy it themselves (as well as other people who make use of that space).

The kids and teacher are already very excited about this project, as am I! The only thing is… the financing I hoped to get fell through (the institution that offered to sponsor this project won’t decide till March and that will be too late) and actually also puts my whole trip in jeopardy, because I need at least two mural projects to make my trip worthwhile. So I’m desperately looking for sponsors!!! The whole project (two weeks of classes and painting) costs USD 950, including all materials and expenses. I hope to raise that amount, of course, but could adapt the project a little if necessary. Anyway, I hope there are some sponsors out there who are willing to make this happen! If so, thanks in advance for making this world a bit more beautiful!

You can donate using the button on this page or through PayPal (carinsteen at For bank transfer (in Spain or Holland), please contact me.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

MuralArte Guate/Int

Hopefully I'll be able to report soon on some new community murals in Spain! My new location in Asturias, Spain, is quite nice, but I haven't forgotten on Central America! I'm planning a trip in January of 2020, mainly to paint some murals at schools and a clinic. But MuraleArte is now expanding and thus in need of an addition to its name. So from now on, it's Mural Arte Guate/Int! may there be many new community murals in the future, internationally!