Nov 30, 2010


For the past two days I've been working at Sanctuary -- one of Bethesda Project's homeless shelters.  In the shelter's private courtyard, I've been working on creating an illusion of a 3D archway with a garden statue representing the shelter's theme of brotherhood.  This is what I did the first day:

Despite the cold, the process was quite pleasant.  Linda made me a cup of coffee and some of the residents came by to chat.  One man named Happy started a philosophical conversation with me about the nature and difference between knowing and understanding.  When I told him I might want to be a lawyer, he asked, "JD, how do you bring justice to a world of injustice?  How do you bring unity to a world divided?"  I was basically stumped for words the entire time, but I found his questions intriguing and plan spend some more time thinking about them.  He later informed me I would need to learn martial arts for my future and said, "Don't be afraid, JD.  Embrace the talents your Maker has given you."  At that point, I felt like a ninja turtle meeting my Splinter.  

Today when I came by, another kind man informed me that he put these pumpkins in front of the mural to enhance it's 3D nature.  I really like the effect they have; and in the summer when the roses grow over the arch the final look will be complete.  The same resident sat and talked with me about younger days when he used to fish with his father.  The man also joked that I should add spiderman and a tidal wave to the mural.  The proposition was tempting, but I had to pass.  I don't know if Father Dominic would have approved the wild departure from the sketch.  

I added flowers to the flower pot and started the garden statue of the two monks.  It doesn't look too bad from far away, but it needs a lot of detail work which I'll do tomorrow if I don't get rained out.  

Nov 22, 2010

Elliot Hospital, NH

Four months after first contacting Billie Ford, we finally got to meet in person at Elliot Hospital.  Though the initial process of discussing the mural and my arrival time via email was slow, we got to right business the morning of Wednesday November 17th.  I was immediately impressed with Billie's passion to beautify the hospital -- which already had several murals in the cafeteria and in the children's floor.  However, one blatant eye sore remained: a random truncated hallway-wide space next to a staircase.  This shortened hall also sported a tiled basin.  Who knows what the architect was thinking...

For sanitary and maintenance purposes, a fountain could not be installed; even the beautiful fake plants Billie had filled the space with earlier in the year had to be removed because of the dust they collected and the effort required to clean them.

However, there was no reason fountains and gardens couldn't be installed with paint.  So I set to work.
Results after day one:

Results after day two:

From the top of the stairs, however, the basin still grabbed most of the passerby's attention:

The mission of day three was to fill the basin with water.  I began with some foot painting.

Going for a fish.  Despite the security guards' requests for piranhas in their "holding tank" I had to settle for goldfish, a frog, and some lily pads.  Shortly after this photo I was instructed by some joking visiters to get out of the water.  

Nov 10, 2010

Westerly Road Tent City

Haiti remains in the headlines if not in the limelight.  Heart breaking titles such as "Cholera Moves into the Beleaguered Haitian Capital" and "Winds Pummel Haiti" seem to roll too easily and frequently through the press.  Beleaguered is right.  When will Haiti catch a break?  If history continues in its seemingly inexorable course, then the answer is not anytime soon.  Even so, as long as the people still hope and we do not grow lax, the tides of time do not have a total say in Haiti's state.

As part of the continual effort to raise awareness about Haiti's condition, Westerly Road Church has set up a weekend long event to show people in the church and community just what Haiti is like.  Today, we turned the youth room into a mini tent city.  It took us almost five hours to set up dirty camping tents, two wash lines, and some basic cooking items.  Most of the tents were bigger (aside from shared community tents) than ones used by the families in Fond Parisien.  Imagine your family on a camping trip, all cozily in the same tent.  Now imagine it's almost 100 degrees out.  The tent traps the heat.  Imagine cooking dinner and lunch in the same space.  Imagine the rain that comes with the billowing storm clouds.  Your mattress, if you have one, is soaked.  There is no end in sight.

In addition to talks, slideshows, and my and sony's art displays, the children who come to experience the tent city will get to make cards (and learn some basic Creole to write inside) for children in the real tent city of Fond Parisien.

Nov 3, 2010

Finished Products...

Here you can see the final version of the Tuscan and flower windows.  The small children with whom I had the pleasure of interacting declared, "I like your poster!" 

A documented process of the flower windows, beginning with green lines...

then adding lighter green lines...

and then adding flowers...

framing the door...

how the pieces interact in the space...

close ups...

Confession: because these I had painted these themes before, I began to lose the feelings of wonder and of magic that usually accompany the immediate and satisfying transformation of a space.  However, just as I was packing up to leave, some clients and staff walked in to give the work a review.  One woman just stood in front of the paintings, looking at them so hard and long that I began to wonder if she liked them at all.  I nervously fidgeted, until she whispered, "They're gorgeous."

Her awe made me feel almost embarrassed (I did not feel worthy of such admiration).  "It's like the flowers are just popping out of the wall and into my hand!" she said.  It was in that sentence she gave the magic back to me.  I had forgotten that I was giving these flowers TO her.  They were for her -- a small gesture perhaps, but an intimate gesture from the imagination and the heart of one human being to another.  The power of a gift, no matter how small, is not to be underestimated.  The way she received and appreciated the gift made me remember the one unspoken rule of gift-giving: there must be joy.  Her happiness in turn brought me happiness; and I thank her for reminding me that art is not only about the image but about the exchange of love and of humanity that each brushstroke holds dear.

Nov 2, 2010

New Haven Home Recovery Mural

Today I met with Carmen Brown and the staff of New Haven Home Recovery.  The location is rather small, but the kitchen -- where most of the clients spend their time -- was in need of some love.  Carmen informed me that she wanted to put up recipes and information about spices on the adjacent wall.  To compliment the idea of cooking, we decided on creating a Tuscan scene on this wall:

and putting flowers and vines over these windows:

While painting, I got to meet several of the clients as well as their children.  One four year old girl immediately declared her desire to paint.  I got out a canvas, and she covered it an abstract array of pinks and purples.  After she painted and wiped her hands on my pants and the kitchen chairs, she immediately moved on to some installation art with my tape, and then photography.  There were over forty pictures on her camera of her face, my behind (an object conveniently at her eye level), and random kitchen appliances.  Her energy and enthusiasm proclaim her a future artist.  Her masterpiece:

A cute picture she took of our feet and an artsy profile shot she also took:

Her installation art:

Two other adorable children decided to join the fray.  Their mother was less willing to let them paint, but they threw their hands into a container of open paint when neither of us were looking.  I hurried them over to the sink to wash off the paint, and they seemed to enjoy the process immensely.  Nevertheless, they continued in a vicious cycle of dipping their hands in paint so I would wash it off.  Needless to say, today was not the most productive painting day, but it was interactive. :) I need to finish the sunflowers and spice up the colors, but this was the result at the end of today:

(the perspective of this photo makes the archway look like a silly shape...but have no fears, it is more symmetrical than not)

Nov 1, 2010

Mural Consultation visit for St. James and St. Paul

Today I met with Rev. Alex Dyer to discuss the mural I will paint for their food pantry program Loaves and Fishes: I had anticipated starting the project tomorrow, but it looks like I will return during the first couple weeks of January after a doing plethora of sketches to finally paint.  
Why so many sketches? 
1) The complex vision for the mural requires intensive composition studies 2) The space is MUCH bigger than anticipated; we don't have proper estimates but I would guess the giant underground room is at least twenty by forty feet.  Any wall space not covered by dance mirrors will be filled with the mural!  3) The Boy Scouts of American will be repainting the walls white in December which will make a backdrop that is much easier with which to work than the current colors.
The Vision: A series of Dancing Saints and Local Heroes.  
Rhythm. Color. Joy.  In this mural, anyone and everyone can be a saint hero (there will potentially be 50+).  Each of the nonprofit groups that use the room will be represented: ballet groups, capoeira groups, food donation groups, and clothes donation groups.  Leaders of the community will be present in the mural, sometimes accompanied by the Christian Saint who symbolically represents their community-minded efforts.  Those who use the room will see themselves reflected in the dance mirrors and thus find themselves a part of the mural; they too will enter the brotherhood and sisterhood of happy, hardworking hero saints.  This will be, by far, the most ambitious and transformative mural of all my projects to plan and execute.  I can't wait.  Stay tuned for updated lists of the Saint Heroes to be included, sketches, and a possible reveal date/party.

Click on Slideshow below for initial (and bigger) pictures of the building with captions.