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…
Thursday, August 21, 2014
My People: The Story behind the Paintings
March I moved from Honduras
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.
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.
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!!!”
many people, so many familiar faces, so many “buenos días” and “qué tal”’s.
Will they miss me as I miss them???
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
you, mi gente…
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