Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Wonderwalls



 I think I’m in love…

Sleepless nights and an accelerated heartbeat in anticipation… My senses are sharpened, colours brighter then ever, right in my face, sense of smell heightened… The enormous dimensions of it all, the physical effort, touch, texture under my fingertips…

Yes, I’m deeply, head over heels in love with mural painting…

Not that there’s anything wrong with painting in my studio. Or on my living room floor in front of the TV, where I usually end up. But nothing compares to paint a big, fat mural. The sheer dimensions, the transformation, the outdoors…

I’ll never forget the first mural I ever painted. It was 1998 or so and there was a guy in town called Mitch, just hanging around, painting stuff here and there in exchange for a beer or a meal. Not everybody enjoyed his art. The three gigantic devilish masks he painted on the wall that surrounds the soccer field where covered up in a matter of hours. A better assignment was to paint a scene in a bar owned by friends of mine, Macanudo. And since I was a painter too, he asked me to help.
My stupid answer was to say no, that I couldn’t, that I’d never painted a mural before. Mitch just laughed and said that that was his first thought too when someone asked him to do his first mural, but that you just have to do it. An advice that I took and that stuck with me. (I was glad I had the chance to tell him so, years later, when I ran into him in Antigua Guatemala).
So we painted a bunch of sympathetic drunks in simple black lines on a yellow wall, surrounding a main figure. Seen from behind the bar, it looked like they were actually sitting at it. Alas, this mural didn’t last long either. For some reason, people thought it offensive because it represented Jesus and his 12 disciples. It didn’t, and except for the number of guys, I didn’t see the connection, but it was painted over anyway.

From there on I started painted more on walls. I didn’t even consider it mural painting, just a little thing here and there. Commercial ones too, and I’m not exactly proud to admit that I’ve covered whole facades with the Pollo Rey logo. But it was good exercise and paid the rent.

I began to take mural painting seriously when I was invited in 2004 to participate in Art for All, a mural and sculpture project in Tegucigalpa, organized by Peter Claesson, then the coordinator of the UN Volunteer Program. It was a great experience, just the fact that I stayed in a fancy hotel for two weeks with forty fellow artists from all over the world, but I also learned a lot, from painting my own mural as much as from watching others. 

The Mural I painted for Art for All 2010, Seville, Spain
During my time as director of the Cultural Association Arte Acción Copán Ruinas, I painted many murals with kids. Sometimes we let the children develop the theme and scene, other times I prepared the sketch and let the kids fill it in. The results were always overwhelming and it gives the kids an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

It’s not easy to explain what’s so great about mural painting. I think part is the challenge of having to deal with a surface that can not be bent, moved or manipulated. There’s the outdoor factor, having to endure blazing sun, wind or rain. The physical effort too, because mural painting is hard work! And of course the exchange with the community, the ever present audience, the comments of kids and neighbours. It’s great to transform a drab wall of a school or clinic into something that the community feels proud of, sometimes even gives them identity.

For the last few years, I’ve been trying to make a living out of mural painting. Not easy, since there’s not much money laying around for art in this part of the world, but every once in a while, I manage to find a sponsor who’s willing to pay me to paint a school or community centre. Other times I paint for free, as long as paint and transportation is provided for. My biggest dream right now is to paint the whole wall around the soccer field. All 120 meters of it!

Thing is, I just can’t stop painting murals. It’s an addiction…

So far, it has been 18 days since my last mural. My fingers are itching… Designs are already made… I’m suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms… Gotta paint one soon…



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