Two Murals

Today was interesting! We headed out to the Holy Trinity Primary school at about 9:30 in the morning to begin the mural there. Nicollete, Tiffany, and Yara came along to help. We had presented the mural idea to the principal and teachers the day before and they seemed enthusiastic.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The idea had sound elements to it, but with so many variables it was hard to tell if it would work as planned.  The idea was to have the students trace each other on the wall. The figures would overlap. We would have the students pick a color and fill in their silhouette. We would have the students choose a word that represents “Hope for Barbuda in the face of Climate Change” to them and fill it in their silhouette. Where the figures overlap, we would help them blend the colors.  The hope was for vaguely Keith Harring-like vibrant energy. The fear is that the “chalk outline” would refer to crime scenes more than we expected.

We procured school chalk from a few teachers and began organizing the effort. The students were not immediately aware of the word “silhouette” so we explained as “like your shadow” and they were on board. The teachers helped us gather up a team of 6th grade students—initially too many! We had about 9 of them.  We choreographed the idea, having them pose against the wall and then look at the photograph. One of the students did a handstand that we unfortunately were unable to capture. When they set the poses, they traced each other out.


The shapes were great! We expected awkwardness but the energy and vitality the students embedded in the marks were not expected! It immediately looked fun!  We then moved down the grade levels, gathering up some from each. We asked 4 of the 6th grade girls to be our “helper team” and they had no problem running the show.  By the time we got to the 2nd grade students, we had about 25 onlookers watching the process. As the kids got younger and the figures filled up the wall, the helper team took to composing and directing the gestures they displayed. We made it all the way to the kindergarten students.

After they completed the chalk outlines, we asked the helper team if they would give an interview about the project efforts for the day. They were quite proud and eager to talk, saying many things like “Well, we are the future, the old people are going away.” They also responded without hesitation to a question about the power of art.  We left the chalk outlines for a few hours until the school let out, returning with a few students to commit the chalk marks to primer paint.


Some interesting things to note:

When we first were brainstorming the idea, it felt like an individualized project. The student to shadow relationship would be one to one. This was not the case. Each shadow figure was a collaboration of many. The mural became a collaboration as a part of the process and not simply merely as a by-product.

The lines took on a musicality—the scene looks like a dance party. The energy of the children translated to the energy on the marks on the wall immediately.


We also made significant progress on the Barbuda Mural at the Barbuda Research Complex. Two more students joined today. One student joined after a morning conversation with his mother. He was from the alternative high school for troubled or behind youth. I didn’t know one existed on the island. His mother recognized his interest in art. The other was a student I had worked with last time, but she did not join the previous mural work.

They both jumped right in for several hours of productive yet extremely silent work. At one point the girl student put on headphones and just carried on singing to herself.  When she started working, she took one look at the pencils I offered her and shook her head. She opened her bag and selected several pencils that were entirely more appropriate for the task at hand and gave them to us! That made me happy, as I don’t quite recall that awareness of materials when working with her last year.

Again we were working on the grid—getting the letters right is crucial for this design. We were still early on enough to allow for mistakes, so I let them make mistakes and then pointed them out and asked them to fix them. I think that is an important way to learn the grid system. Since the working session was so silent, the learning through doing and observing was forefront. At one point the boy was standing behind me and watching me use the pencil to measure angles and points. I would then repeat it and point out what I was doing for emphasis.

I had to run out for erasers for the male student. He seemed more comfortable with the ability to erase. It was a small lesson for me in the difficulties of material acquisition on the island. We went to three separate locations, only to find tiny pinky sized erasers in a bowl in a small school supply store.

It was a great feeling to leave the students working on the mural. When I returned, the two from yesterday had also joined.  Happy to say that they pretty much fixed the middle B that I was working on before I left.

In the evening time, the field students gave draft presentations of their work. One of the benefits during the chaos of the field school—being around all these smart folks.  It’s also nice that Bamma has joined us for a few evening sessions. The work with him is moving along, and we still hope to get the song recorded and the video shot before next week.



Painting inside landscape

I wanted to try painting with the acrylics on cardboard today. Up at 6am, I prepared the acrylics and the easel for a day out in the field. I met up with the students for breakfast and we first went to Sea View, a place I had not been before.  Sophia introduced Sea View as an archeological site. We climbed to the top of a dune and saw many broken pieces of pottery sitting on the surface of the dune. Sea grape plants, among several other species, covered the dunes.

I learned an interesting trick that tells you if a particular shard of something is pottery or simply a rock: you lick it! Your tongue registers the smallest of sensations—the pores of the pottery draw in the moisture, causing a small suction sensation on the tip of your tongue. I am going to lick rocks and pottery alike in the future I imagine.

We walked over the edge of the dune system and saw an awesome sight. Many of the roots structures on the ocean facing side of the dune were exposed, draping in a sinewy fashion down the side of the 30 foot dune. Unfortunately that is a sign of ill-health. I don’t recall why the plants initially would die off, but the drought condition here seems pretty serious. The plants die, exposing the roots and the dune erodes from the constant ocean wind. This becomes a positive feedback loop. Since Barbuda is such a flat island, the dune systems are especially important to maintain.

From there we went to Two Foot Bay. I had been to this place before and remembered the spot I wanted to paint, so it took no time to decide where to set the easel up. We entered a cave right on the coast, up a fairly steep incline. This cave has a petroglyph that is unfortunately eroding fairly quickly. The cave is the perfect shelter from the ocean, it allows daylight in through several skylights.  Of course it is better suited for smaller people – you can bump your head pretty hard on rock! I did, even though I remembered the pain from the last time I was in that cave. I can feel the bump from today on the top left side of my head, almost exactly above my left ear… a current sensation of the cave, where the cave gave voice to its hardness and that expression had an impact.

I set up the easel in the shade at the mouth of the cave, looking out at the ocean. I found my footing and got to work. The first thing I noticed is the absolute intensity of the bright blue sky. The rocks framed the sky, drawing it into further relief.  I was working from an unprimed cardboard piece, so the color was almost an exact match for the rocks from the start. I had accidentally filled my water bottle with lemonade from one of the two coolers, so I had to dilute the paint with lemonade.  Later I had wondered why ants were on the painting, but obviously the painting was sugar-coated! I sat there for several hours, working my way through the painting with only brief breaks. The sky could never be bright enough. No that’s too white, it is more colorful. No that is too dark. How many colors are in the sky? Why haven’t they invented a paint color that is an exact match yet? Probably because the sky is a different color from day-to-day. I should do a study. Take a photo of the sky every day from the same spot. Compare the blues. Average them out… but then it can never be the illuminated sky. It’s so bright.

Here I am, physically encased in the earth, looking out at the world as a part of the world. Of course I would choose this view—the practicality of spending several hours in the shade matched perfectly with a painterly expression along the phenomenological lines of being inside the landscape already. The cave opening mimics an eye shape in a sense, a slit.  The painting becomes a reversal of Plato’s cave—instead of looking in at representations of the external world, I look out, with the cave and as a part of it.

And I felt a part of the cave, it’s artistic history, working my own ephemeral way. I painted on cardboard, conscious of the disposable nature of the work while thinking of the longevity of the old petroglyphs behind me. I joined with an unknown person across time and in place—sensing, responding, and expressing.  I thought of other people who have used this cave. Did they have the junk with them that I did? I brought a lot in, but I brought a lot out. Did they spend a long time here? How different did their bodies feel while in this cave? I imagined the general sensations would be similar, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if the rocks were as hard for them.

Several lizards came to briefly investigate and carry on their way. The particularly gecko looking lizards move like snakes with legs. They are remarkably agile. I also saw a hermit crab scuttle across my view. I got up to look closer and the hermit crab returned to the cave opening it came from. It was about the size of a small grapefruit. I was impressed to see it up high in the cave, as I thought they were more likely to be at the sea. I later learned you can pin a hermit crab down by putting your finger on its shell and it will make a noise. They also are notorious for stealing shells from archeology sites. Cheeky Buggers.

Mural preparations at the school begin tomorrow.