Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My People: The Story behind the Paintings

Last March I moved from Honduras to Guatemala, a change that was as hard as it was exciting. It wasn’t easy to leave Copán, a town I had called home for the last seventeen years, a town that had become an inerasable part of my life. Although making a living as an artist hadn’t been easy for the last two years or so, life was still easy and comfortable in a town where I knew everybody and everybody knew me. A cash flow problem was never an issue because I had credit in the local pulpería, on the market, in the pharmacy, with my land lord, doctor and favourite restaurants. I never had to look for assignments, because people came looking for me. But moving to a new country of course meant to start all over and having to prove myself as an artist again.


What hurt me most when I left Copán was not to leave my best friends behind, we’ll be in touch, no doubt, but those dozens, maybe even hundreds of people I had some sort of relationship with, even without knowing each other well. Such as Don Mingo, the owner of a herd of cows I encountered on many an early morning hike. We always said hello, but that was it, day after day, year after year. The day before I left I stopped him in his car because I wanted to tell him that I was leaving for good and just to say goodbye. He gave me a big hug and had tears in his eyes. And so did I.


The old toothless lady who sold me bread every day, my dog’s best friend, was another constant in my life even though I didn’t know her name. Another one of the very few people I actually said goodbye to. Then there’s Doña Berta from the pulpería; the old man from the mountains who always tried to sell me crystals, not understanding that a person only needs that many pieces of rock. There were the town’s drunks, a bit of a ghastly sight maybe, but always polite. My favourite encounter with them was when I asked them to let me through one day while they were occupying the stairway leading to the park. Very politely they stood up and let me pass. “Have a good day, Tanya!” said one. Another drunk punched him in the shoulder. “That’s not Tanya, you idiot! That’s Cathy!!!”


So many people, so many familiar faces, so many “buenos días” and “qué tal”’s. Will they miss me as I miss them???


The move to Guatemala was unexpectedly smooth. I quickly settled into my new home in a small village just outside of Antigua, not that different from any barrio in Copán. I quickly became a regular in the pulpería and yes, just as in Copán, I stumble in there every morning I my pyjamas, wearing my inelegant rubber flip-flops (Suaves Chapinas), just as I did in Copán. A custom I didn’t think I would ever repeat in more sophisticated Antigua. Well, apparently you can get the girl out of Copán, but not Copán out of the girl…


What amazed me in my new neighbourhood was how many people I “recognized”. There was that same sympathetic shop girl, although here she sells bread and not tomatoes as the one in Copán. There’s the old lady going her way in the old ways; the neighbourhood kids who swarm around me as if I were a magnet and of course a whole assortment of local drunks. And dogs, plenty of dogs. Even chickens, roosters and an occasional horse. No wonder I feel so at home here.


As soon as I got settled, I set to work, mostly visiting shops, galleries and restaurants with my port folio. Not unsuccessfully, because soon I was hired to do some painting here and there and my paintings and products are for sale at several locations. Not a bad start, but not quite good enough yet for a steady income. And here, no money really means no money…


At the same time I started to work on a new series of paintings for a future exhibition. I had no idea where yet, but in order to find a gallery that would be interested, I of course first had to show some work. The World Cup was a perfect excuse to stay home, work on my new pieces while with half an eye following the games. My idea was to paint a series of portraits of the new people in my life, some known to me, others just passers-by, but mi gente, my people nonetheless.


The opportunity to exhibit came much sooner than I had expected. One day I went to a film presentation in a new gallery (I quickly learned to go to all openings and cultural events, great for contacts and often a free glass of wine) and I left my card with one of the owners.

To my surprise they called me two days later, asking if they could come by my studio. Sure, I said, and an hour later they were there, in my tiny and hopefully temporary “studio” that also doubles as office, living room and dining room. Not undone by my not-so-professional workplace, they did like my art. They literally took all my paintings off the wall to exhibit in their gallery and were enthused about the idea to have an opening with my new work. How much time would I need? Optimistically and quite unrealistically I answered: three weeks.


So the date was set and I started to work my butt off. The paintings were coming along fine, but what worried me was how to frame the works on an extremely tight budget. I decided to buy the cheapest board as possible, have glass cut and use little aluminium sort of hooks to fasten the glass, all by myself and a little help from my neighbour Paul. Well, my scheme didn’t work out. So I invented a new system with a sort of paperclips. That sort of worked out, at least for the smaller paintings. By then I had broken no less than seven out of nine glass plates and I was down to my very last quetzal. I was so desperate that I even sent a message to the gallery owners to cancel my show. “Don’t worry,” one of them wrote back, “I’ll be there in ten minutes and have a look.” He did and came up with a simple and creative solution that made the sun shine again.


To make a long story short, on Saturday August 9th I had my opening in Mayan Creations Arts & Crafts Gallery. And it was great! There were plenty of people despite the heavy rain and I even sold some work. I wouldn’t have been able to do it all without the help the gallery owners Juan Pablo and Luis Pedro and of course my great new friends Ana María and Chrissy, who single-handedly managed the whole bar and wonderful snacks of spech kuche and home-smoked shark with cream cheese.


I’m indefinitely grateful to all the people who have given me opportunities here in my new world and those who have offered me their friendship and support. Today, exactly five months after moving here, I’m proud and happy to already have my first solo exhibition and one assignment after the other coming in. Antigua truly begins to heel as home.

Thank you, mi gente


My art work is on exhibit till September 8, 2014 at Mayan Creations Arts & Crafts Gallery 4a Avenida Norte #22, Antigua Guatemala. If you missed the opening, no worries, because we’re planning a closing ceremony too. Why the heck not? Especially if there’s free wine… J







1 comment:

  1. Carin, Wherever you go, there you are! So glad Antigua knows you are there! Ann Winship