Oct 31, 2010

Rutgers Newark Fundraiser

Last night, Rutgers hosted a Symposium about Haiti: why it is the way it is, what needs to be done, and what we can do.  Vickie, Carine, and I set up a table with my paintings and Sony's artwork.  We raised over two-hundred for the trade school!

Oct 28, 2010

Painting for Haiti

As I plan to return to Haiti, I am getting more involved in what people can do for Haiti from the United States.  Groups traveling to the country are currently doing a lot economically for the country -- employing construction workers, maids, cooks, security guards, drivers, etc -- as well as emotionally.  The Haitians told us that seeing us there remind them that they are not alone and that the world has not forgotten about them.  We have the time and resources to do things they cannot yet, such as make over 400 sandwiches for kids in the tents, play with the kids, buy supplies for benches.  However, eventually, we want Haiti to stand on its own without anyone having to come from foreign countries.

This is a big task.  The first step I'm taking is attempting getting Sony's (the tent city artist) work on worldofgood.com.  We are in the last phases of doing so (we're working on getting approval from our chosen trust provider).

The second step is making a logo for the new trade school Ecole Professionnelle MEN NAN MEN that's being built.  Here's the first sketch:

The next step is raising funds.  Things in Haiti are only getting worse as the cholera outbreak spreads. I've created these paintings to show at the Rutger's Haiti fundraiser in Newark Saturday.  All the pieces combine scenes from Haiti that I saw with the drawings that people made during VBS.  I would love to paint more murals with more people from the tent city who are still jobless as a productive and creative way to stimulate their minds.

This was a tilted house in Port-Au-Prince.  The flowers and "I love you" were parts of a drawing made by a little girl in the tent city.

Here you see the Presidential Palace, a common theme of Haitian artists' pieces.  I added a woman carrying a basket of fruit on her head with a little boy holding her hand; a talented man named Andre drew a picture incorporating the mother and the boy.  They seemed perfect for this painting.

I call this one the band-aide tree.  The building was a bank in Port-Au-Prince, and the tree was designed by a woman in the tent city.  I thought it would look beautiful on this building if we could paint it there!

You see abandoned cars and machinery on the side of Haitian roads all the time.  They often seem strange in contrast with the almost unearthly, stunning sunsets that occur at nights.  I expanded the idea of putting Haitian designs on buildings or walls to making them "live" in the setting of the painting.

This piece shows the children in the middle of a game of limbo.  Instead of putting in the stick we used as a limbo bar, I added these bright shapes that some small children created which better express their joy and fun during the games than any other background.

Another building in Port-Au-Prince.  Another beautiful Haitian tree.

This piece may turn into diptych.  I wanted to address the issue of houses and building in Haiti.  Most people who died in the quake died because houses were constructed poorly.  You may see one building totally destroyed next to one that's standing perfectly upright.  The red house you see in the foreground was drawn by a woman whose dream was to have a house with one light, two chairs, a window, and a table. Very different from our American dream...

To learn more about what is being done to change the way things are built in Haiti, check out Peter Haas' site: http://www.aidg.org/
He was kind enough to put Fond Parisien on his waiting list for teaching masons...thank you, Peter!

Another Game Plan

Bethesda Site No. 2

As we wait for city approval of the first site design, Clare and I decided to go ahead and tackle another Bethesda location looking an extra touch of color.  She sent me to Bethesda's 20th Street location (called Sanctuary) in Philly.  I was greeted by Linda Green, the Program Coordinator of Sanctuary, who eagerly supported the idea.  Linda showed me around Sanctuary's house -- where men can stay up to two years while recovering from addictions, preparing themselves for the job market, or getting the education they need to support themselves.  Linda bustled about, turning on lights, enthusiastically greeting and introducing me to several of the residents.  Everyone, myself included, seemed to immediately trust Linda.  Gentlemen checked in with her to grab their medicines, wash their dishes, or just say hello.  The next man who walked by was a Haitian gentleman who used to be a lawyer in Haiti before he came the United States.  

"God bless you," I said in Creole.  
"Hello," he said while shaking my hand with a small, polite smile.
"Sak pase?" I tried next (slang for what's up?). 
He responded to this more enthusiastically with a, "N'ap boule!" (slang for, not much, but translates more literally as 'I'm burning up')

"What I love about Bethesda," Linda said afterwards, "is that we are allowed to be family here.  We take care of the professional aspects, but after that, we can be compassionate.  I love the human to human interaction I have here."  Clare too had mentioned this familial, warm climate encouraged by Bethesda's various programs.  Both women were right, I felt right at home.  

My goal for this project is to extend the feeling of homey warmth, possibility, and brotherhood that I felt in Sanctuary.  Linda and I decided that the wall in the back courtyard would be the perfect place to add a mural.  

I want to create two optical illusions in this mural: 1) paint a garden statue of two men arm in arm encouraging one another that looks 3D and made of marble 2) make it look like the brick wall turns into an archway covered in wisteria that leads into a peaceful garden scene beyond.

Once housing gives us the go ahead, I'll get to work!  Thanks to Linda for her openness and cheer and to Clare who has been sending numerous emails to make these murals get the permission to live on the walls of Philadelphia!

Oct 20, 2010

MLK Park Day 3

Today we finished up the mural, adding the rest of the text and filling in the scroll.  The sun and sky are so bright you can see them from over a block away.

Some new text:

I added some doves:

Hard at work...

Cole didn't want his picture taken so I had to sneak shots:

Picking the font for the scroll.  Cole said he didn't know cursive but liked that font the best.  I made him practice and paint it.

And what a great result!

The crew that came today:

MLK Park

Henry Street asked me back -- not to paint at the Senior Center this time but to paint their Martin Luther King Park with the adolescent program.  I was more than pleased to accept the challenge the 10 ft by 40ft wall presented.  The kids got to decide every item that went in the mural and I just helped them put it together.  They chose: a sunset, Martin Luther, hands reaching for a diploma, people playing basketball, a scroll with an encouraging quote, and text with words of their choice.  Here's the progress of the past two days:

Step 1 & 2 (prep days): The old, peeling, faded mural was scrapped and the wall was primed:

Step 3 (Day 1): We painted the background

Step 4 (Day 2): I added the clouds

Step 5 (Day 2): We began adding the foreground elements...


Step 6 (Day 2): We add text "Hope, Courage, Diversity etc" and step back to evaluate.

The next steps today include finishing the text, adding the Henry Street Settlement mission statement, and the Martin Luther quote.  Working with the kids (young adults rather) has been extremely rewarding.  They work hard and take ownership of the images.  I'll often hear things like "Fix that mountain, man!" or "That color just isn't right".  They are often pickier than I am about shades, tones, and shapes!  The project was supposed to be finished in two days, but everyone wanted to come back for a third to add the finishing touches with me.  Thanks to everyone at Henry Street who made this wonderful experience possible, especially Matt and Jen who left their busy, important work to come paint with us.  :)  

Oct 13, 2010

Proposal for Bethesda

 Today I rode a bright red electric bike through the streets of Philly to one of my next mural sites.  Despite my efficient and energy saving steed, I couldn’t locate 907 Hamilton Street -- home to the Bethesda Project who's goal is uplift the poor and abandoned in Philadelphia.  Some kind gentlemen on the corner of the street noticed me riding about obviously lost.  They stopped to talk to me first about the bike, “Is that electric?” and then about what I was doing in the area.  Not only did they subsequently lead me in the right direction to 907 (turned out I was right in front of it), but also one of the men carried my rather heavy bike up the stairs to the main office.  When I thanked him, he said, “Well, it’s no problem.  I would want someone would do this for my girls.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all helped each other up the stairs?  This moment led to the inspiration for the mural proposal that will go before the city of Philadelphia.  Since the city owns the building, we'll have to wait and see if it gets approved.  Still, I figured I'd share the idea with you all.

The wall:

The sketch sans color:

The sketch with some rough coloring in photoshop:

People from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities help each other up a set of stairs symbolizing the various stages and troubles of life.  The mural emphasizes the benefits of community, friendship, hard work, teamwork, and ambitious dreams.  The words around the scene say, “I dream of a day when every man and woman in brotherhood live as one another’s angels.  How far we could go together up life’s staircase.”

Oct 5, 2010

6 Year-olds with Talent

Yesterday I returned to Womanspace to paint with the children.  Not all who wanted to come could, so I left supplies for those absent to use at their leisure.  The two little girls who I did work with blew my expectations out of the water.  Not only were they well behaved, not only did their attention spans hold for over an hour and a half, and not only did they want to learn the basic elements of color theory, but also they created beautiful work. 

This first piece, by a girl we will call S, wanted to paint a mermaid -- an especially exciting subject matter for me since I was (still?) am obsessed with mermaids from an early age.  What impressed me about S's technique was her methodical, careful approach to the piece.  "First, I will paint her skin.  Then once that dries, I will paint her suit and hair.  Once the hair dries, I will paint her crown."  Not everyone who paints understands the very important concept of layering.  Most students want to put down all their colors right away or else they compose a piece of many separate parts - ie, paint the suit then paint the skin around it instead of painting the top after painting all of the skin.  This "all at once" technique often dirties the colors and makes painting around previously painted parts painfully meticulous.  This is why S' colors are particularly vibrant; she was patient.

S surprised me in other ways.  Instinctively, she added more water to her brush to paint the ocean water, creating the effect that the mermaid is floating among light reflecting water.  Beautiful!  S was also unafraid to attempt depth by placing a light blue dolphin in front of the mermaid.  Each blade of seagrass was painted with extreme care, and the two-toned green was S's own idea.  

The contributions I made to the piece were minimal.  I taught S how to make peach by mixing orange and white.  I suggested she create a background for her mermaid.  I would on occasion point out a detail she might want to add, but the vision and execution was entirely hers.  I think you will agree the result is impressive. 

"Underwater Mermaid"

This next piece is very exciting for its innovation and color.  We will call the young artist C.  C created a painting of a lively, green bird.  I helped coach C to develop an outline slightly more proportional than she had originally drawn, and I was impressed with C's openness to my suggestions.  With C, I taught her about color theory: how red and green are complimentary colors and therefore make each other pop.  She took this concept to heart.  We also investigated the world of mixing colors.  C mixed red with yellow, blue with green, white with black, along with other less successful combinations.  

What I loved about C's approach was her ability to at once heed what should be in the picture realistically and then also add her own additions.  For example, she knew the beak should be in the middle of the face.  When I asked if she wanted to fill in the beak yellow, she said, "No, I want to add another red circle and a pink dot."  Well, I had never gotten such a specific, pre-meditated response so I said, "That sounds like a great idea." The result is fairly magnificent.  The bird's face is far from bland; it actually moves.  The fresh, single stroke of red atop the yellow could be Chinese calligraphy or a stroke from the expressionist era.  C used similar techniques in the background, adding spots of pink, yellow-orange, and blue-green.  She gave her subject not just a background, but an environment -- a field of emotion that is just as important as her foreground.  

Another note about C's work: she perfectly drew her outlines and then violated them.  C carefully outlined her bird, its feathers, and its feet.  She then without hesitation put dots and blobs of color that trespassed the dark green border.  These explosions of color then are not the childish inability to control the brush, but rather thoughtful and purposeful strokes.  C knew that boundary and structure (even if she didn't know the words for them) were essential to art; she also knew that structure without personal experimentation and imagination would be boring.  Imagine this bird without the spots of color: it would simply be a bounded bird floating in space.

"The Bling Bird"

So while "adults must learn from children" is a slightly hackneyed phrase, it does hold true -- at least in this small, artistic context.  I am reminded that patience, boldness, and openness are essential to creating art.  S and C also are examples of fearless, innocent ambition.  Too often we let our own desires or dreams scare us.  Too often we think the converse, that we have no desire or ambition that is worthy of others seeing; or that if we do and if we were to try it, its failure would be inevitable.  Both sentiments are false.  Here two children reached beyond what even I (shame on me!) expected of them.  I assumed their visions would be less than their work suggests.  These lessons thus stand: 1) allow yourself to be amazed by your creativity 2) creativity is necessarily a mixture of success and failure 3) your failures lead to more successes than your successes.