Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mural Project Dominican Republic

The mural in it entirety
If I’d have to describe the Dominican Republic in just one word, I’d say: loud. Not that Guatemala is an oasis of calm, but my, in the DR they have raised being loud to an art form! The most popular pastime seems to be driving around in a car, all windows open with a HUGE speaker on the backseat, carefully tucked in with the seatbelt (which I’ve never seen used on a human), vibrating distorted bachata or reggeaton. At a popular hangout spot on the boulevard I once saw no less than THREE cars parked next to each other, each competing for being the loudest while their occupants were standing nearby conversing. Or attempting to.
If people talk, it sounds like they’re at each other in a way that makes Italians sound like meek sheep. But that’s just the noise level. Nothing is happening. Which is what happens most of the time, a whole lot of doing nothing, preferably on the veranda you see in front of every house.
All in all it was quite a culture shock, going from the mountains of Guatemala with its humble indigenous people to the lively Caribbean town of Puerto Plata…
The school with upstairs 3 new classrooms built by Colour4Kids
How I happened to end up there is because of the connection with the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids.I’ve worked with this foundation twice before in mural projects in Progreso, Honduras and last year they funded part of the community mural I painted in Chimachoy, Guatemala. In Puerto Plata they built three extra classrooms to an elementary school and the mural was the cherry on the cake to finish this project. The project was initially scheduled for late November last year, but at the time we had to postpone the trip last minute because of the rains and flooding in the area.

The school is located in a lively middleclass neighbourhood of Puerto Plata. The building used to be a basketball court, but was converted into a school thanks to the effort of some mothers from the neighbourhood who got organized and whose president, Rosa, helped us with the logistics for this project. The front wall is an entire street block long and is very visible along a well travelled street, a perfect location for a community mural!

The theme was Children’s Rights, as determined months before we started the project in collaboration with Yudelka Morán, the director of the school. The idea was to have the children help paint but since it was logistically too complicated to have all 200 students involved, I designed colouring pages based on the mural design to be distributed among all students. There are six colouring pages in total, each depicting one of the six main figures/children’s rights and they fit together as if a jigsaw puzzle. Actually, each colouring page depicts much more than just one right. For example, the second scene of the mural refers to gender equality, but it can also be interpreted as a call against racial discrimination or any other form of inequity. That’s open to discussion.
Each student received one or more colouring pages which helps them to have a stronger connection with the mural and hopefully also be more aware about children’s rights (and obligations). 

Erik van Middendorp, of Colour4Kids had already been in the DR for two weeks when I arrived and one of the things he had arranged was to have the wall cleaned and primed. The weather forecast wasn’t good – it was actually pouring rain when I arrived- so the less time we would waste, the better. On May 1st, while the kids had a day off, Erik and I started drawing the grid and sketching in black.
The second day we added some colour and slowly the wall started to transform. We worked from background to foreground and from top to bottom. We outlined the bottom part, so we could have the kids help us colouring those parts, which happened on day 5. About twenty kids were picked out to help us paint and then the transformation was complete. The last two days were for touching up and details. And then, on Sunday May 7th, the work was done! The last thing I did was painting the light post in front of the mural in a cute polka dot pattern, because its ugliness stood out too much.

All in all I was very happy with a result. The Toucan acrylic paint that I had never worked with before was of excellent quality with nice, bright colours. The wall was even and smooth and our audience very supportive. The corner on the left happened to be the meeting point for the moto-taxistas, guys dressed in orange vests who drive you for 50 Pesos ($1) on the back of their bike to your destination. From that corner they loudly discuss the world, the mural included (very positively!)
The old man who lives with his kittens across the street was so moved with the mother I painted, embracing her child, and he kept telling me so. The lady from the corner across the street lent us her ladder and brought us our daily dose of sugary coffee. Rosa was there too the whole time, keeping an eye on everything from her chair in the shade and frequently telling Erik to work a little harder. Despite the heat and the noise level, the result was what I hoped for and the weather had collaborated beautifully. Ready for the next one!

With Yudelka, Erik and Rosa
The next two murals were painted at the side walls of a new school building in La Union, about a twenty minute drive from Puerto Plata. The school started by Roberto and Judith Terrero in a nearby slum that is mostly inhabited by Haitians. They soon had over 200 students cramped into a very inadequate space, but now have two school buildings and a kitchen built by the Samaritan Foundation. The school currently caters to 300 students, but can expand to 500.
Colegio Evangélico Asher, La Unión
The theme the director had asked for was the Dominican Republic’s history, but I felt rather uncomfortable with the choice. First because I hardly know anything about it, and interpretation of a nation’s history, especially with such a controversial past as this one’s, is a very delicate issue. Especially if most of your students are Haitians. It’s also visually not an easy task, so after some emails back and forth, we settled one mural about children’s rights, the other one a portrait of the Mirabal sisters.
Painting with kids and more kids!
Erik had become a well trained assistant by now, so we had both walls primed and gridded in no time. They were small too, only 3 x 2.75m, which might seem big enough but still is 8 times smaller than the previous mural. A piece of cake…
We started with the mural on children’s rights. I started sketching the girl while Erik started on the rectangles in the background. We later treated those with a dry bush in contrasting colours, to make them a bit more organic and dynamic, inspired by Eric Carle’s famous illustrations. The kids mostly wanted to know who the girl was. Some were convinced that it was Gladys’s cousin, the deaf mute girl that lived around the corner, but others said it was Tatiana from Grade 8. She was quickly summoned and I took a picture of her in front of the mural so you can judge for your self.
Actually, the design was based on the random picture of a girl I had found on the internet. I just wanted to use an image the kids could relate to. The fact that they recognized all kinds of friends and relatives in her means I succeeded. But when I explained that the girl actually represents all girls, or even all children and that I painted her purple on purpose, because black and white are not skin colours at all, they just looked at me blankly. The purple, okay, but the girl? Nah, that really is Tatiana!
Two days of painting and the mural was done. The kids received a colouring page of the design and I was ready for the next!

This one was a bit different in colour and tone. I started with the features of the women in the darkest shade and then added one lighter tone after the other.
The Mirabal sisters were easily recognized by all the children, but when I asked them why they were so famous and what they had achieved, not all of them were too sure.
Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa (and their husbands) were all involved in the resistance against dictator Trujillo. The husbands were jailed and it was when the sisters came back from a visit on November 25th, 1960, that their car was stopped and the women clubbed to death by the secret police, most likely on Trujillo‘s direct orders.  
Ironically, the disgust and revulsion abut this deed made the resistance fiercer than ever and Trujillo was finally successfully assassinated on May 30th, 1961.
The sisters are now national heroines and nationwide acknowledged on murals, on monuments, on banknotes and souvenirs.
The quote on the mural is not by one of the Mirabal sisters, but an anonymous one I liked because of the reference to flying (their code name was “The Butterflies”) and, implicitly, education. It translates as: Your wings already exist. All you have to do is fly!

On the afternoon of the first day it all of a sudden started to rain. At last! Luckily, due to the high temperatures, most of the paint was already dry. Only Minerva’s cheekbones that I had just applied started to run and looked like bleak tears. But that was quickly fixed the next day.
The last day of painting was hot and humid, but it didn’t rain. Erik painted a LOT of butterflies while I focused on the faces and text. And then we were done! Mission accomplished, finally time for some sightseeing…

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dominican Republic Murals about to get started!

Stay tuned for the series of murals I'm about to paint in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic!!!

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!