Painting the Barbuda Government Building art

I’m Safe

As I sit down to write, yet another mini-squall is hitting the roof of the research center. The roof is thin, and it sounds like there is metal on the top. The rain always sounds gentle hitting the roof, a bit like a soft static in both ears. 

Tonight is my first night on my own at the station. Sophia left this morning for Antigua, Puerto Rico and eventually New York, all by Monday. Max the 1-year-old doberman rotweiler is now staying with Romeo, so it is truly quiet here.

Max has a thing for kids, as in, he wants to eat them. For this reason we decided it was best to not have him around.

Being sunday and a transitional day, I wanted to get some oil painting done in the morning. I’ve been attracted to the government building shortly up the road. The building is very stately, but falling apart. It had some trouble with a bad string of hurricanes in the 90’s and was never repaired. The council used to use the building but they moved over to another a stones throw away.

I set up under the shade of a tree and painted for about 4-5 hours.

The first man who I talked with while sitting there was a welder and a handy man. He was on break from his security job at the council building. He asked me if I was “enjoying the day?”_ this enjoyment question I get a lot when painting. I think it is funny in a way. I do enjoy part of the time, but honestly it is hard work at times as well. If I was working on a spreadsheet I would be less likely to hear that question. In fact, when I code in wordpress I occasionally hit “the zone” where I really am enjoying myself. But I don’t attract spectators or get asked if I am enjoying my time.

I suppose this is because of some perceived axiomatic understanding of what painting is. I find myself trying to dispel that notion fairly often. I don’t want it to appear mystical; painting is a practice and most everyone has a practice. In conversations I ask people about their practice. This is how I came to know the fellow is a welder.

He has also experienced the burning from looking at the arc light. He said it is “very painful.”

Our safety mindset in the US sits around our lives, dicing up and individualizing our actions like a card catalogue.

The burning eyes provoked a fear of my own, as well as the motorbikes with no helmets. I cringed and then wondered how safety laws and regulations impact my sense of fear. When I asked about the helmets, some students said “you just have to be a good driver.”

In response to “How are you?”, people respond “I’m Safe.”

I really do enjoy the conversations while sitting outside painting. People seem a bit inclined to open up and offer things about themselves.

Overall, about 6-8 people stopped by. The first guy and then two high school students were the most talkative. One older guy came by and was a bit oddly philosophical. “Are you painting the building or do you think you are painting the building?” He told me that every slave came through that building in colonial times and it should be repaired because it is history.

What a strange period in history. Has colonialism stopped or just morphed? Is Barbudan kids listening to Rick Ross some strange evolution of colonialism?

We live inside our own bubbles so much that it is hard to understand the perspective of others.


Council elections are coming up in March. I learned today that there is a “head guy in charge” who gets elected every five years in Barbuda. Council has a two-year term. Change is difficult here politically. As I understand it, 90 percent of Barbudans are employed by the government. There is little incentive to vote out the incumbents, because that would threaten their livelihoods. Apparently it is good pay for the amount of work required.

In the evening I had another 5 hour session with some students on the mural. They worked for about 4 hours and it was great. They really took to painting and were diligently painting in what I told them to. As the session progressed, they eased into painting on their own. They added and subtracted some things from the mural design and really did a good job. They were very comfortable with the process and even discussed elements of the mural with each other. Malcolm and Kendrick (sp?) were the students.

After we finished, they took photos and posted it on Facebook. They were saying “that’s sick!” I told them we will continue to work on it and figure out how to make it even more “sick” over the next few days. We will put some “swag” into the mural—to which they laughed.

They added the ferry that brings people and cargo, as well as a person fishing from the mangrove roots. The also added a few too many flying-v birds. I may secretly paint over those.


One response to “I’m Safe”

  1. Noel! So great to meet you and Yokari (sp?) this evening at Tugboat. I came to your site to learn your email, but found your contact form not working, and ending up exploring the rest of your site! Incredibly detailed and informative and inspiring blog posts, and what a treat to see all of your art tonight. You really have a way with color and boldness and richness. I was wondering- where do you get your stuff scanned and printed? I am on the search for a good spot. I love the cards you had for sale– I bought the one of the Brooklyn street since I am new to the city and still pretty enamored with the whole sidewalk culture thing. Would love to hear from you! Thanks again, Eli