Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Universe, a Forest and Metamorphosis All in One

How nice to be back at Brillo de Sol! This special school for kids with special needs means a lot to me, so it’s always a pleasure to be able to make their learning space a bit more joyful. This time we decided on a mural in the corridor upstairs and we worked with a great team! There was Judy Sadlier, who sponsors a student at the school, her friends Gwynn Thoma and Debby Pate. We also had help from Cristian Rápido, Judy’s scholarship student.

No one really believed me when I said we can do a 18.65 meter wall in just two days, but of course we could The theme was based on the names of the classrooms: Universe, Forest and Metamorphosis. For the Universe part I picked a famous illustration from the Little Prince because it depicts a universe, for one, but also an erupting volcano. And, in case you didn’t know, the author, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, crashed his plane at the capital’s airport in 1938 and spent some time recovering in Antigua. Is that were the volcanoes on the little Prince’s planet come from?

The work went well, starting with the background for the Universe part. Then we moved on to the background for the Forest part, adding layer over layer of trees to create depth. A few deer and a scarlet macaw later and the forest was done.
The Metamorphosis classroom used to be the library and that’s what I had in mind when I made the design, but that turned out to be no problem at all. I had designed it with a stack of books (not irrelevant for a high school classroom) and a butterfly. I just added the life cycle of a blue morpho butterfly on a blank page of the open book and the reference to “metamorphosis” was a fact.

So, two days later of hard labour and the job was done! The school is running out of walls to paint, but luckily, there’s still a few awaiting a transformation.

Thanks so much Judy, Gwynn, Debby and Cristian for helping out (and sponsoring) and Ilene Kradin too, who was unfortunately unable to help paint, but helped out with the not unimportant financial part. Thanks to the Brillo de Sol staff for attending us so warmly and the kids for the positive feed back. I hope to be back soon!

 And maybe, -just maybe-, the next mural will be of a boa costrictor that just swallowed an elephant...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Three Masks and Don Patrocinio

 I just can’t get enough of painting murals at the nursing home Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz! Last week I went by to ask permission to do the third and –alas, last- mural in the dining hall. That took all of twenty seconds. “Mi amor,” the director said, “the wall is YOURS!” Leaving took me another hour because of course I had to say hello to all the friends I made there.The cute old man who was sitting at the “art table” insisted on showing me all the colouring pages he had finished. He had only a few pages left so I promised to bring him more. (Which I did and will continue to do. What an easy way to make someone happy!)
Anyway, yesterday was the day and thanks to a fantastic team we managed to finish the mural in just one day! There were three of us, so basically we did three days of work in one. My assistant Henry did a terrific job setting up the paints and materials and then helped marking the grid and sketching. Whereas drawing the grid took him a long time when he first started, he now has the hang of it and the job was done in no time. More great help came from Alice Lee, quite an accomplished painter herself, who had offered to volunteer. The design was ideal to work in a team of three. The wall wasn’t too high, so we didn’t have to fight over ladders and the width of the design gave each plenty of space to comfortably work in. We worked hard, only stopped for a quick lunch and despite a chat here and there, Don Saul’s constant singing and an abuelo hiding under our worktable, we were finished by 5pm!

This mural depicts Don Patrocinio Quesibaldo, a friendly old man whose favourite spot was the bench next to the exit where he could keep an eye on people’s coming and going. He liked the previous murals we painted and often came by for a chat. Unfortunately we heard yesterday that Don Patrocinio passed away soon after we finished our mural in January. I like to think he would be honoured to have his portrait on the wall.

Doña Trini was there of course, as always busy drying dishes (despite her 96 years of age) but taking regular breaks to give us hugs and positive feedback. Another old lady came by to tell me that she really enjoys the murals, especially the first one, of Doña Juanita and Don Inocencio. She said: “They were my friends and I talk to them. And you know what? They talk back to me!”

So, another great experience! It could of course not have been done without donations from Ann Kitchen, Amanda Gibson, Alice Lee, Ana Maria Ackermans, Suzanne Picot and Wendy Russell. Thanks so much! And of course a big thank you to Alice Lee and Henry Navarijo for a terrific job done!

So what’s next? I’d love to continue painting in the nursing home. The dining hall is quite done by now, but the complex is huge and there are plenty walls left. Also on my wish list is the new hospital of Obras Sociales in San Juan del Obispo. A huge brand new building with masses of white walls that make my fingers itch. And of course there are still some requests from schools on the shelf. And more dog murals at the Unidos para los Animales shelter…. Plenty of walls to think of, as long as the donations keep coming in, I’ll keep painting! Thank you all for your support!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dog Art

"Hazel in Heaven", approx. 4 x 2.75m

And now… Time for something completely different! Normally I work with kids in my mural projects, so going to a nursing home for the last few ones was already quite a change. But working in close company with dogs was something else altogether. This mural was painted at the Unidos para los Animales dog and cat shelter high up in the mountains above Antigua Guatemala. It’s a beautiful spot where lost, injured or abandoned dogs and cats find a safe and warm home. For most animals it’s a just a temporary home. A lot of the dogs are up for adoption, but not all. The “porch dogs” are there to stay but don’t seem to mind at all.
Work in progress at the Unidos para los Animales shelter
The place is spacious, green and clean. I’ve been wanting to paint a mural here for a while now, because I really appreciate this organization. I’ve been fostering puppies for them for over a year now, so I know from up close what wonderful work Linda Green and Terry Kovick Biskovich do. And no, the mural isn’t necessarily for the dogs but for the staff, the visitors and many volunteers (including kids) who pass through. Although, I must say, the canine feedback was great. Lots of licks and cuddles. There was criticism too, if peeing on a mural counts as disapproval. I understand. The mural was painted in Chico and Molly’s run and the art work doesn’t depict either of them. My apologies, guys!
Tiny little Chico and yours truly

 The depicted dog is in fact Hazel. I wanted to paint her the first time I met her, with her bumpy head, endless hunger, huge expressive eyes and fun loving character. When Linda posted a picture of Hazel “with eyes begging for treats from heaven”, I was definitely sold. Hazel was going to go up a wall!
Hazel, begging for treats from heaven. Photo by Linda Green
Unfortunately, Hazel passed away a few weeks ago. She wasn't quite well when she was rescued off the street about six months ago. However, she did find a family that wanted to adopt her despite all of her medical problems. In the meantime Hazel was to stay at the shelter until she would be recovered enough to go on her life changing journey. Unfortunately that trip never happened. A few weeks ago, Hazel got really sick. She spent a few days at the vet who concluded there was nothing more that could be done. She was obviously in pain, so the difficult decision was made to put Hazel to rest. A very sad moment, but it made me even more determined to put Hazel up a wall.
Got some help un-plastering the wall!
And so I did.The work was fun and easy going. Okay, the stucco wasn't quite as sturdy as it looked at first glance, so it had to come off. But one advantage of working at an animal rescue is that you get to take your (foster) dog to work.
Foster pup Little Bee a little blue on the butt (collateral damage of mural painting)
The work is done! Now the title is no longer “Hazel Begging for Treats from Heaven” but “Hazel in Heaven”. I hope she’s enjoying tons of treats up there.

This mural was made possible thanks to a generous donation from Dr. Jim Bader. Thanks so much!!!

Hopefully there will soon be more dog (or cat)-faced art up at the shelter!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Three is Not a Crowd

The bell rings harshly throughout the corridor but is ignored by all and quickly fades out. A new attempt. No reaction except for an old man who holds on to the bars of the gate while mumbling something incomprehensible and pointing with his chin to the world outside. Two ladies shuffle past, tightly hanging on to each other while strolling for hours around the small centre garden. Usually clockwise, but once, just once, I saw them going the other way around.
Birds play with the straw gathered around the crib of Jesus in a forgotten Nativity scene in the garden. Nurses hurry past long lines of elderly sitting on couches or in wheelchairs along the corridors around the patio. I hate to ring the bell again and disturb this harmony, but why beat myself up, no one is bothered by it anyway.
So I ring again and this time I hear hurried footsteps. One of the orderlies comes in sight, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand, a huge keychain in the other. He opens up for me and my assistant, and the work can begin.
Well almost. First we walk by the long row of elderly in the corridor.  For some we’re no more than shadows passing. Others greet us, happy with any distraction, even if it is just a person not wearing a white uniform. Others recognize us from previous days, a smile of recognition appearing on their faces. With those we chat a little before moving on to the next. 

We walk through the dark corridor that leads to the dining hall. The space is dark and low, almost like a tunnel. I’m reminded of the Sculpture Museum in Copán Ruinas where a tunnel through the Maya Underworld leads up to a magnificent view of Temple Rosalila. Here in the nursing home, the end of the tunnel is covered with a blanket that muffles the kitchen sounds coming from beyond. And then, when you push the blanket aside, there is, well, not a Maya temple, but a mural that; I’m proud to see, livens up the place. Don Santiago and Doña Juanita against the church of San Andrés Xetul.
To the left there is another mural, this one of Doña Trini against a backdrop of one of Guatemala’s famous giant kites. 

But there’s one more wall that’s calling out for a mural… The design is ready, all that’s needed are some donations towards materials…  Nine more donations of $25 (Q185) each and we're there. Shall we make this happen together?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Another Mural for the Elderly!!!

Doña Trini, 4.5 x 2.75m,
Hogar de Ancianos Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz, Antigua Guatemala

Going back to the nursing home Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz was a bit like coming home to old friends. After the initial polity “Buenos  Días” back and forth, recognition dawned on the patients’ faces. “Oh, you’re BACK!!!”
Everybody was excited about another mural in the corridor and despite all the details and many chats with the residents and staff, Henry and I managed to finish this one in just a matter of days.

The lady depicted is still very much alive. Doña Trini is 96 years old and has been living at the home for over twenty years. She’s not one to idly sit around. As soon as the dishes are cleared, Doña Trini helps washing up. Or straightening tablecloths or adjusting wheelchairs. Various staff members told me that I couldn’t have picked a better person to paint, she really deserves it. Unfortunately I didn’t see her when the mural was finished to take her picture in front of it. Not that she was too impressed anyway. When a nurse asked her if she felt honoured to be depicted, she just said “Naaaahh…” and continued drying dishes.
With Doña Trini in front of the previous mural
It was yet again a wonderful experience to paint here. I don’t think a mural could ever be appreciated more. My assistant Henry also did a great job. This is his third mural with me and he’s learning fast. Wonderful to have such an assistant!
Henry Navarijo
Of course many thanks to the wonderful people who made this mural possible. Jihae Park, Linda Conard, Linda Green, Tessa de Goede and Ineke & Jan de Smidt, THANK YOU!!! You all ”won” a signed copy of this mural which I will get to you soon. A very special thanks to Dr. Jim Bader for his generous donation that helped sponsor this mural and the next. You’re prize is coming up too…
Coffee Time
I hope to be able to go back soon to this nursing home. There’s still plenty of wall and staff and residents will be happy to have us back, which is the biggest compliment we could get!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Another Mural for the Elderly??


Due to the overwhelming success of our previous mural, the residents of the nursing home Hogar de Ancianos Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala have requested ANOTHER (two) mural(s) for their dining hall. Designs are in the making, the only thing missing is $230 in donations towards paint, materials, assistant and such, in order to create the first one. Want to help? You can donate trough PayPal (see “Donate” button on this page) or a deposit in Euros on my Dutch bank account (please email me for bank info, Let’s make these terribly cute people happy this year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Christmas Gift for the Elderly

Only a block away from the central park in Antigua Guatemala, an old colonial building is home to 136 elderly (50 women and 86 men) who have nowhere else to go. The high ceilinged bedrooms off the corridors are cramped with beds and few personal belongings. Mealtimes are the highlights of the day. Otherwise, most of the elderly spend the day in the corridors surrounding a garden, dozing off while wandering far off places in their minds, singing to invisible audiences or strolling the corridors on their Crocs. Some look more ancient than Yoda and have long lost interest in life beyond the walls of the home, but many others are active and alert, happy with any diversion offered by visitors or volunteers. Or mural painters.

In the beginning of November I already painted a mural in the physiotherapy room at the nursing home Fray Rodrigo de la Cruz. It was much appreciated and immediately resulted in a request for another mural in the dining hall. Of course I said yes!
After some fundraising I started working on the design. I decided on a double portrait of two elderly people surrounded by objects from their youth. Surfing the internet for suitable images, I stumbled on a post by Mikki Branner, who volunteered at the nursing home in 2012. It’s a beautiful post with striking portraits of some of the residents (and hereby my excuses for using those images without permission, but I couldn’t find a way to contact Mikki Branner). I picked two portraits of, as I learned later, Don Inocencio and Doña Juanita, both now deceased. Don Inocencio, as I was told, loved his liquor and although prohibited in the home, he managed to smuggle some in sometimes and then happily sang for his fellow residents. Doña Juanita passed away only to months ago. She was mute but had no problem expressing herself and was much loved in the home. 

I asked my 16-year old assistant Henry to help me find images of antique objects. He was eager to help and soon sent me a series of images of “old stuff”. His pictures cracked me up: film posters of Rocky, Superman and Ghost Busters. A View Master and a Rubik Kube. Plastic soldiers and a skipping rope! That’s what you get when you ask a 16-year old for pictures of “old stuff”. It also made me feel very old. 
Henry Navarijo
I found some pictures of antiquities myself but when assembling them around the portraits, I wasn’t very happy about it. It was too chaotic, it lacked unity. I tried some Guatemala fabric in the back ground, but that didn’t work either. Then I remembered the colourful church of San Andrés Xecul and… yes!
This 17th Century church (near Quetzaltenango) is a wonderful example of the syncretism between Maya beliefs and Catholicism. The parish was without a priest for years and the locals just did their thing, I guess. The façade is covered with angels, saints, flowers, vines, ferns, palm leaves and many animals, including a few jaguars. The angels look like tired, chubby super heroes and the symmetry is quite off here and there. I just love it!

So off we went to paint. This time there was a lot more interaction with the residents and they loved to have us there. One man whose designated seat is right in front of the mural told me he liked this one much better than the other because he had physiotherapy only once a week and this one he could enjoy every day.
Within days we knew many of the residents and every morning we had to personally greet them. Some liked painting themselves and showed me their work, wanting to hear my “professional opinion”. And of course, a week before Christmas, we were constantly treated to Christmas Carols, (indoor) processions, (outdoor) fireworks, concerts and many, many treats the elderly insisted on sharing with us.

Henry and I both felt that our work was thoroughly appreciated both by the residents and staff. About every able resident stopped to chat with us and congratulate us on the art work. Other people were less aware. One time, working high on the ladder, an old man urgently beckoned me to come down. I thought he might have some suggestion for the mural, but no, he just wanted some water. All in all it was a very special and heartwarming experience. We left after many hugs, handshakes and applause. And guess what? They want ANOTHER MURAL!!! Fine with me, there’s still plenty of wall left…

Many, many thanks to Henry Navarijo who again was a great help and is a very talented young painter. And of course to the sponsors who made this mural a reality: Wendy Russell, Nina Larrea, Linda Green, Jim Bader, Jihae Park and Romi Gonzalez. Thanks so much!!!

And as for another mural?? I can squeeze one in before the end of the year. Want to help? Please donate and I’ll paint!